Emphasize reasons, not just rules.
As workers become comfortable in their jobs, a sense of invincibility sometimes takes hold, and it may occasionally result in carelessness. In an industry like construction, the misconception that having experience means you’re free from risk can end up causing injuries and sometimes, taking lives.
Every company may have a different perspective on how to create a successful safety program, but everyone can agree that they want to send each employee home safely at the end of the day. To do so, it’s critical to have written safety policies and procedures — but conveying the reason behind them is also important to drive compliance.
There are several ways to convey the “why.”
Explain the reason behind specific safety procedures
Don’t just tell workers that a trench protective system is needed beyond a certain depth (and caution them never to enter a trench beyond that depth that lacks one). Explain that the company could be hit with a hefty fine from OSHA if the regulations aren’t followed — and then go further.
“Some of the why could be metrics and maybe past issues we’ve had or the industry has had with not doing this,” said Jarrett Quoyle, senior director of safety and health for MasTec – Utility Services. “The why could be what’s in it for you. First and foremost, it allows you to go home at the end of the day the way you came in if not in better condition, meaning you’re not trapped under 2 tons of dirt.”
Show you care
Simply showing your concern for your employees’ wellbeing can remind them that accidents do happen and that going home in one piece is not necessarily a given. “If they feel and they know that you care, and you take the time to explain why things are done a certain way, people are more likely to get on board,” said Quoyle.
When leaders emphasize safety at every turn, employees will internalize the need for it. “If you go out and have an interaction with the crew and you’re like, ‘We did lose some money this month, profits weren’t where they need to be…and oh by the way, when you head out there today, be safe,’ the message they heard is about money. However, when you change the way you talk and you lead from the safety perspective, and you spend most of your time on that, that’s where it becomes impactful.”
Use storytelling to bring it home
Sharing real-life stories of particular safety incidents and explaining the missteps that led to an injury is an excellent way to drive home the reason for following safety procedures. When employees see what a difference the proper procedures can make, the why speaks for itself. No one wants to see a gory accident involving one of their colleagues, and certainly not one involving themselves.
Give employees the tools and training they need
“Making it personal in why we want to be safe is important, but then walking the walk by providing the training, tools and equipment needed to execute per those expectations, that’s all part of the why, too,” said Quoyle. “Once a positive safety culture is created, individuals start to feel empowered and will do the right thing because they want to.”
Safety in construction has become a larger focus in recent years, and construction is indeed becoming safer in general. But there’s still a long way to go. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, out of 4,674 worker fatalities that occurred in private industry in 2017, 20.7 percent — one in five deaths — occurred in construction. An average of 2.6 construction workers died per day. Doing everything you can to help your employees understand why it’s in their best interest to follow established safety procedures is one way to lower that number.
Donna Puglisi is a communications and marketing professional specializing in the construction industry.