Last month, we considered identification, analysis and elimination or mitigation of unsafe job site conditions. However, safety for any construction worker should become a habit. It should be ingrained within their behavior, not something that is practiced only when it’s convenient, when the thought occurs or when someone is looking. Habitual safety practices on a work site begin with proper orientation when the worker starts at the site.
Workers should expect and, if necessary, ask for specific and detailed safety orientation. It continues with the expectation of proper training for any job or equipment with which workers are unfamiliar. Workers should continually seek out appropriate safety equipment for the task at hand. They should make safety planning a part of their preparation for any new task to be undertaken and maintain vigilance for themselves and others throughout the workday. Emergency procedures must be ingrained and emergency preparation renewed and updated frequently.
Unfortunately, habitual safety practices often are not practiced, so the supervisor must watch for and correct unsafe behavior immediately. People are at the heart of all accidents. Even if an accident isn’t directly caused by a person, it could have been prevented.
It is important to understand that rules, regulations, processes and procedures should not cause individuals to lose sight of their own personal responsibility for safety. Sophisticated owners of construction have developed strong safety standards nationally and locally. Wise contractors take safety very seriously and feel a moral responsibility—not just a legal one—to provide a safe environment for all workers. Nevertheless, all the safety precautions in the world will not maintain an incident-free workplace if individuals do not behave safely. Individuals cannot relax their vigilance because the environment is as safe as possible. Therefore, a key to preventing accidents is to eliminate unsafe behavior.
There are two types of unsafe behavior: inadvertent and deliberate. An inadvertently unsafe act might be the result of workers not hearing or understanding safety requirements. It also might be the result of inattention. Often, unsafe behaviors happen when the mind is elsewhere. For instance, it is the end of the day, and I am thinking about going home. It is the end of the week, and I am thinking about that great fishing trip tomorrow. It might be Monday morning, and I am recalling the exciting football game on Sunday. There is a reason why Monday mornings and Friday afternoons are the least safe times during the week on construction jobs.
Inattention or a lack of understanding are the key culprits in inadvertently unsafe behavior. Therefore, the solutions lie in developing procedures to refocus the mind on the job, particularly the safety aspects, and to ensure proper, accurate and complete communication about any safety-related issues or anything else that might affect safety.
When an inadvertently unsafe act is identified, it must be analyzed to determine what caused it, and procedures and policies must be changed to eliminate the conditions that caused the infraction. Because it is inadvertent, we cannot expect individuals to be able to avoid it in the future. We must put in place some change in the work environment that will protect against inadvertently unsafe acts.
Deliberately unsafe behavior is another matter. It often occurs because the consequences might not have been properly evaluated. Deliberately unsafe practices cannot be tolerated. Part of the new worker orientation should be clear definition of behavior that is not allowed and what the consequences are if infractions occur. If a deliberately unsafe act is identified, the appropriate consequence must be enforced. If the deliberately unsafe behavior continues, suspension or dismissal must be enforced. This is done to protect the individual, the other workers, the job and the company. Consistency in response to deliberately unsafe behavior is very important. First it will deter future unsafe acts. Then it will avoid charges in the future of favoritism or discrimination.
Construction safety is an important topic, and this column will return to it in the future. In the meantime, if, as a supervisor, you feel you are not adequately trained in safety, or if your workers lack any safety training, now is the time to get on top of that.
ROUNDS is the AGC endowed chair and professor of civil engineering at the University of New Mexico. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. SEGNER is a professor of construction science at Texas A&M University. Contact him at email@example.com.