Safety is an everyday topic in the construction industry. Personal protective equipment such as hard hats, safety glasses, boots, gloves and hi-vis vests are essential to keeping the workforce safe. Safety is much more than the PPE provided to employees, an experience modifier rate (EMR), accidents and lost productivity cost. For successful companies, safety is part of their culture.
In an industry made up of adults, why does it feel like we are getting our kids ready to go out the door to school each morning? Instead of checking to see if they have their backpack, lunch and homework, we have to remind employees to put on their seat belts, safety glasses and hard hats. Many managers do this to minimize accidents and keep costs down. Sometimes we have to remind employees to do these things so we don’t get thrown off the job site.
Safety starts at the top
What is the best way to get employees to complete these safety acts on their own without a nudge each morning? As with most things, it starts at the top. Two of the simplest ways are to set clear expectations and lead by example.
Setting clear expectations about PPE, toolbox talks, seat belt use, etc., creates a level playing field for the entire staff. The guidelines should be the same regardless of title and position, leaving nothing to interpretation.
Through leading by example, the manager sends a clear message that safety is important to everyone. There isn’t the perception that safety is only a field concern or that only the large jobs need to worry about safety. If the company policy states that everyone on a job site will wear safety glasses, a hard hat and boots, then there are no questions about what employees should have on when they exit a vehicle and walk on the job site. Some companies may also require a hi-vis vest and gloves regardless of project requirements.
You might be saying that this is all common sense. Why is it such an uphill battle to get employees to comply if it is? When a company’s culture has a safety focus, resistance to compliance is removed.
Part of the culture
Culture is defined as the customs, attitudes and behavioral characteristics of a particular group of people as a whole. The entire group shares the same attitudes and behaviors, and everyone has the same mindset that safety is important for the company’s success. Employees don’t wear their safety glasses and hard hats because they are told to; they do it because this is what everyone who works at the company does.
It isn’t surprising to anyone that safety, or the lack thereof, creates tremendous financial repercussions. The easiest aspects to measure are the number of lost days, the cost of an accident, OSHA fines and other expenses. The more challenging part of the equation to measure is the return we get from having a workforce, in the office and field, that cares about their own and others’ safety. They work safely because it is the right thing to do and know it is best for them and the company.
We asked the audience at a presentation on developing a safety-centric culture what benefits they see when safety is a priority for everyone. Responses included fewer accidents, a lower EMR rating, a better reputation in the industry and community, the ability to win more projects, higher employee morale, better employee engagement and increased profits. Everyone may not understand how each item benefits them, but everyone benefits from a culture where safety is a priority.
Thinking of safety as an investment in your employees, company and overall success versus an expense to each job shines a light on why safety is paramount. While some benefits associated with safety are harder to measure than others, there is a potential for a huge return on investment if appropriately managed. With everyone on the same page and engaged in a safetycentric culture, costs go down, profits go up and everyone wins in the end.
Header image by Shutterstock and iQoncept.