Behavioral safety is rapidly growing as a key tool in creating safer work environments. It aims to create ways of working that reduce the incidence of injuries caused by unsafe worker practices. The importance of behavioral safety in the construction sector as an effective and positive influence is likely to increase, particularly as greater numbers of companies are now investing in it. And investment is critical to its success.
The initial safety training, the toolbox talks, induction briefings, etc. will take a company so far. But at a certain point, workers will switch off; the core message will have been communicated but ongoing safe work practices must now be monitored, workers must remain engaged and the concepts behind behavioral safety kept fresh and relevant.
'Good safety management won’t win you the contract, but (if you don’t measure up) it will eliminate you from the tender'.
Construction sites differ hugely from ‘normal’ workplaces. Rapidly changing work conditions, large numbers of different contractors, and operatives working together and in sequence are the industry norm and present difficult challenges. Add to this the human dimension and the capacity for individual error, and problems can multiply.
Experienced managers, including safety managers, understand this and are constantly striving to minimize the potential for mistakes. A serious accident will typically involve a number of factors, not just the proximate ‘trigger’ one. A common factor in many serious accidents involves a late change in methodology and/or poor communications – usually a combination of both. The implications of making such changes may not always be appreciated or understood. This is why a ‘last minute risk assessment’ process is usually part of the risk management program.
Even the best managed sites with thorough and effective risk assessment and control procedures can be defeated by a lack of concentration or a simple thoughtless act. Effective behavioural safety training can counteract this, creating a rigorous mind-set for employees.
On a recent major healthcare project in which we were involved, an excavation contractor twice struck buried cables, despite being advised as to where the cables were located and the cables’ locations being marked on site. This caused the shutting down of operating theatres for the day. The chief consultant, although upset, made the comparison of a surgeon about to carry out a major operation: he steps back and reviews all the fundamentals before ever making an incision. Are we operating on the right part of the body? Has anything changed? What can go wrong here? The thinking processes are simple but necessary, given the consequences of error.
Behavioral training concentrates on the human element with a strong element on emotions. Safety training videos and warning posters acknowledge this and are pitched directly at the consequences of an improper act, particularly on the emotions involved. Properly structured and communicated, this can be a powerful force in influencing behaviour of large and diverse workforces.
The benefits can be measured beyond the terms of safety. There are tangible and quantifiable cost benefits. Reducing human error increases efficiency and productivity. A company committed to systems that produce things in a correct, precise and safe manner hones its efficiency and quality management. Safer working environments and practices are now part of what is expected from reputable companies within the construction sector.
A senior manager at a major USA company, engaged in multi-million construction projects, put it very well and succinctly when he spoke about the importance of health and safety for contractors: 'Good safety management won’t win you the contract, but (if you don’t measure up) it will eliminate you from the tender'.