When you work in a complex business, it is paramount that safety concepts and best practices are reinforced and communicated in ways that are easily understood.
Any company that wants to remain successful needs to take that benchmark seriously. We don’t need to look very far to discover the harsh realities. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a total of 4,836 American workers died from a work-related injury in 2015, the highest annual figure since 2008. Nearly 20 percent of those workers were employed in the private construction industry.
A Proactive Approach Is Key
"There is risk in every stroke of the ax," says an ancient book of wisdom. Any industry, and especially those related to construction, must start every project with identifying not just what can go right but also what could go wrong. From project-specific risk analysis to safety codes, to a detailed emergency management plan, the ideal scenario is to create precise prevention and control methods to ensure that the execution of each task is planned and completed in a safe environment.
Employee Involvement and Teamwork
In their book Safety Practices, Firm Culture, and Workplace Injuries, Richard J. Butler and Yong-Seung Park maintain that employees who have a say in the creation of company policies take ownership of them and are more likely to embrace the standards set by the group.
A key result of another study cited by Butler and Park echoes that idea, noting that "employee participation in decision making, employees’ participation in financial returns, and especially management safety culture, positively affect worker incentives, thereby reducing accident and workers’ compensation costs."
With everyone on board and focused on teamwork, companies must next develop a detailed and comprehensive reporting system to capture indicators to benchmark performance. Policies and procedures must be monitored, communicated through information sessions (both formal and informal), and work seamlessly with a collective mission to achieve the highest level of quality.
In Sight, In Mind
If "out of sight, out of mind" is true, then safety programs can only succeed with policies that are always on the front burner. Printed copies and posters of policies in plain sight on walls, in trailers, in break rooms and restrooms, and next to entrances and exits on the worksite continuously reinforce the commitment to safety.
For each project, it’s important to consider the attitude of the message. A cartoon image has a very different tone than a stern policy reminder. How many messages are posted and how often management will issue reminders of them is also essential.
As Creative Safety Publishing point out, just throwing a handful of posters on the wall without regular meetings to address safety policy is not likely to be effective at all. A better solution, the company advises, is to rotate safety posters, perhaps to coincide with safety topics discussed at monthly or quarterly meetings.
Even more effective are posters that relate to seasonal hazards in the workplace or reflect larger safety initiatives like National Fire Prevention Week or Eye Injury Prevention Month. Project managers can even bring posters to safety meetings to use as a starting point for a discussion and then post them in the workplace afterwards.
After a while, posters and signs can become so familiar that they’re just part of the scenery. Putting up new posters will catch employees’ attention and workers are more likely to stop and read them, further reinforcing safety regulations and suggestions.
We’re Only Human
Before the first construction employee dons a hard hat, the company hiring that worker must be aware of, observe, and closely follow all industry-related codes and guidelines. Seems like a no-brainer, right? But the best practice for safety policy is to assume that workers—and leaders—are only human. One of the basic tenets of education is that humans are forgetful so students won’t remember information that is not reinforced. Safety programs need to take that fact seriously as well.
And that applies even to the most experienced laborers. Safety and Health Magazine, the official magazine for the National Safety Council reports that many electrical hazards can be avoided by following approved NFPA 70E and OSHA guidelines. No worker should ever assume equipment is de-energized, the guidelines say, and workers must always “test before touch.” But when job tasks become routine, it’s easy to become tempted to skip safe procedures to get things done more quickly. No company, then, should shy away from reinforcing things that well-trained electrical workers already know. Posting reminders about on-the-job hazards, safe machine handling, and proper PPE use can go a long way to improving worker safety.
Slogans like “safety is everyone’s job” and “safety first” are familiar, but they are words with weight. Poster and sign campaigns are great tools for building a safety culture and keeping safety in the forefront of every employee’s minds.