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Construction Safety: The Importance of Supervisors and Safety Culture

Feb. 6, 2020
According to the study's authors, the construction industry needs to make sure supervisors and foremen can provide the safety leadership needed on site, but the analysis suggests that the industry tools to do so are not being fully utilized.

Contractors are increasingly focused on jobsite safety and worker participation, according to a new report from Dodge Data & Analytics.

With the support of The Center for Construction Research and Training and Procore (CPWR), the analysis reinforces emphasis on the importance of supervisors onsite and their leadership in promoting safety.

“Dodge studies consistently find that most contractors are struggling with skilled worker shortages,” explained Steve Jones, senior director, Industry Insights at Dodge Data & Analytics in a written statement. “The competitive edge from being able to retain staff is growing in the industry.”

Jobsite workers and supervisors dominate four factors selected by the highest percentage of contractors as essential aspects of a world-class safety program: jobsite worker involvement (84%); strong safety leadership abilities in supervisors (83%); regular safety meetings with jobsite workers and supervisors (82%); and ongoing access to safety training for supervisors and jobsite workers (77%).

These four factors rank far above other important factors such as regular safety audits (67%), having staff positions devoted to safety (61%) or regular safety meetings among staff at the corporate level (62%).

The study also shows that companies rely on their supervisors and foremen to deliver safety training to jobsite workers – 73% selected this as the means by which they provide training, almost 50% more than those selecting the second most popular option of using an in-house trainer.

According to the study's authors, the construction industry needs to make sure supervisors and foremen can provide the safety leadership needed on site, but the analysis suggests that the industry tools to do so are not being fully utilized.

“Through our partnership in these studies with Dodge Data & Analytics over the years we learned that well over 80% of the contractors surveyed relied on the OSHA 30-Hour training program for their supervisory training, even though it was not designed for that,” said Chris Cain, CPWR executive director, in a statement.

She continued, “The Foundations for Safety Leadership (FSL) module was developed to fill this gap, and more than 70,000 workers have received the FSL training since it was first introduced three years ago. The contractors we’ve spoken to who have utilized it speak very highly of it, but from this report it is clear that we need to do a better job of promoting this free resource to the industry.”

In 2017, the Foundations for Safety Leadership training module was introduced as an elective to the OSHA 30-hour safety training course, but only 43% of those participating in the study were familiar with this offering. This is despite the fact that, among the 29% who are actually using it, nearly all (90%) report that it is effective in improving the jobsite safety climate.

The study also looked at the tools to improve safety management, from the use of safety policies and organizational practices to training practices.

  • The most popular safety policies are the site-specific ones, including creating site-specific safety and health plans and training programs for all employees and subcontractors. However, there is room for wider adoption even of these measures, especially among small contractors (fewer than 20 employees).
  • While most contractors (66% or more) encourage workers to react to and report hazards onsite, far fewer ask workers for input on safety conditions (50%) or involve workers in safety planning (39%).
  • Contractors still expect to increase their use of online training in the next few years, but, surprisingly, a lower percentage reported using it in the current study than in the one in 2017.

Contractors are particularly excited about the potential of technology to improve safety. While a relatively low percentage are currently using technologies like wearable devices (11%), virtual reality for training (5%) and visual monitoring employing artificial intelligence (3%), a surprisingly high percentage believe that these technologies have great potential to improve safety in the next three years (63%, 36% and 33%, respectively).

The findings of the study paint a robust picture of the issues, trends and opportunities facing the construction industry, further fueling the conversation on how to best address safety more effectively.

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