How to Take the Luck Out of Construction Safety

In their new book Safe By Accident: Take the Luck Out of Safety: Leadership Practices that Build a Sustainable Safety Culture, authors Judy Agnew and Aubrey Daniels focus on using behavioral science to improve workplace safety. The book explores practices that waste time, money, and create less safe workplaces – such as incentive programs, safety signage and punishment. Agnew offers these five tips for creating a safe construction workplace: Don’t base safety incentives on incident rates: Having zero incidents is the ultimate goal of safety, but this flawed system unintentionally rewards luck, can encourage employees to not report incidents to avoid losing the incentive, and may result in reinforcing unsafe and unethical behavior. Instead, an incentive system should be based on motivating employees to engage in pinpointed safe behaviors. Understand the value of near misses: Whether in an office or a factory, there should be a prescribed way to produce a product or service in a safe, efficient manner. Any deviation from that should be classified as a near miss. We must sensitize employees to observe deviations in their own behavior and that of other employees. Near misses provide valuable information about training, supervision, and teamwork. Mistakes should not be punished: Employees often fail to report safety concerns because they fear reprisal. Punishing unsafe behavior creates a culture of cover-ups where employees play the blame game. Understand that checklists are not fool-proof: Checklists can become an important tool for developing sound behavior and producing long-lasting change, but sometimes people assume the very implementation is all that is required to change behavior – it will only result in temporary change. Items should be observed apart from the checklist to ensure quality and safety. In addition, modify your checklist by conducting post-mortems on projects and procedures to pinpoint tasks, roles, and responsibilities more specifically than before. Ditch inspirational safety signage: Without the clutter of signs that have no meaningful information, employees may be less likely to ignore important signage. In order to maximize effectiveness, use only compliance signs that direct specific behavior (“Hearing protection required in this area”) and informational signs when appropriate and relevant.

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