Effectively Communicating Construction Safety
Years ago, I met with a very dynamic construction client to review their insurance and risk management program. During the visit, I had the opportunity to meet with various supervisors and employees. One of the main questions I proposed to the group was: “What have we done this past year that we’re proud of and where can we improve?”
I’ll never forget the response one employee gave that I don’t think anyone in the room was expecting. He said with clear conviction that, “We do a very good job here in killing people with kindness.” His comment forever changed my notion of how to “professionally confront” people within the construction worksite. Are we being too polite and not challenging workers to perform better and safer? Do we not say anything when we see someone lifting wrong or not consistently checking a blind spot when driving a truck for fear of offending them?
The Numbers Say It All
Over 4,670 construction workers were killed on the job in 2014. In an industry more prone to injury or death, there’s no such thing as kindness when it comes to minimizing risk. That’s not saying as a company leader you should condone supervisors to be condescending; rather, it’s looking at the numbers and understanding that a zero accident culture means holding one another accountable and seeking out best practices in regards to on-the-job safety.
Companies should continue to search for more effective ways to get the corporate safety message across in order to reduce potential claims and time off from work, as well as better bottom line. Additionally, open and confidential communication should always be welcomed by the management team in case a situation arises where a coworker does not feel comfortable addressing a safety issue that could potentially affect one or more individuals at the company. The supervisor has the ultimate role of being the eyes and ears of the team and confronting any situations that jeopardize the safety of others – while the leadership team is responsible for imposing a positive safety culture and ensuring its top of mind at all times.
To clarify this point, I went back and thought about situations I’ve encountered where supervisors did “kill people with kindness.” Here’s one example from a similar industry that resulted in a large workers’ compensation claim and altered the life of a coworker:
A waste to energy company had a wide shear press that needed two men on the job. One side had a remote control button that required the operator to be away from the point of operation; therefore, you had to wrongfully rely on the operator to communicate verbally or hand signal when the remote control device was to be engaged. The supervisor knew this wasn’t correct and in fact a strict violation of standard safety practices and willful violation of OSHA. They should have had a two-hand safety control device that both members would press to activate the machine. But the supervisor simply allowed this to go on until the other remote mechanism was delivered and installed. Within two days, a second shift employee lost his hand while the single remote control device was activated by his co-worker.
Even though this wasn’t on a construction site – the moral of the story is that the supervisor should have never knowingly allowed for an unsafe practice to continue whether it affects production/deadlines or not. Upon noticing the violation, he should have communicated the problem with the workers and a consequent plan of action. Instead, a tragic error occurred that resulted in a costly claim, as well as severed the hand of a worker, changing their life forever.
Whether it’s you as a leader or one of your supervisors, don’t fall victim to: “If I just would have said something, this wouldn’t have happened.” Keep safety top of mind, even if that means constructive feedback.
- Assurance University OSHA Trainings
- How to Create a Safety Culture Webinar Recording
- Calculating and Communicating Your Safety ROI
- Learning from the Houston Incident: Scaffolding Checklist
- How to Break the Ice and Start a Safety Committee
- Six Ways to Promote Safety Without a Director
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