Improving Employee Involvement in Construction Safety Programs

April 29, 2011
In his newest post, guest blogger and Future Leader in EHS Jason Townsell explains how safety professionals can improve employee involvement by communicating the benefits of an effective safety program. Every safety program, if not managed and ...
In his newest post, guest blogger and Future Leader in EHS Jason Townsell explains how safety professionals can improve employee involvement by communicating the benefits of an effective safety program.

Every safety program, if not managed and communicated successfully, can run the risk of creating barriers to employee involvement. These barriers can include lack of trust among employees; inadequate training; lack of leadership commitment; and even resistance from partners such as supervisors, support personnel, unions and the work force.

Unfortunately, in my industry – construction – resistance from partners seems to be the main barrier to employee involvement. Construction projects tend to involve many stakeholders, and these stakeholders share the common goal of getting the project built as quickly and as inexpensively as possible.

This production-first goal may cause safety to be pushed toward the end of the priority list. Urging production personnel whose jobs depend on speedy production to buy into a safety program – a program they believe will damage their goal of speed and efficiency – can be a significant challenge. Even so, we must try to navigate around this barrier and overcome these challenges. Otherwise, lives may be at stake.

Forging a Partnership

When two parties perceive a difference in their goals, an inevitable rift emerges between them. Safety professionals, for example, may be perceived in the workplace as existing only to complicate workers’ lives and stunt production. In reality, a safety professional’s goals for a project should mirror those of all stakeholders: to complete the job as safely and efficiently as possible with as little loss as feasibly possible.

These safety and production goals, however, are attained in a different manner. Production-minded employees attain their goals through fast, efficient production, while safety professionals attain their goals by preventing loss.

Because both of these strategies are economically sound, it is possible for the labor force and safety professionals to create a partnership. To accomplish this, safety professionals must abandon the Big Brother mentality and instead adopt a vision that partners with the labor force to accomplish the combined vision of safe, efficient production.

Communicating the Benefits

In order for a partnership to be forged, each entity must understand the benefits provided by the other. In the case of production personnel, the benefits of their services are evident in the bottom line. A safety program’s benefits also are evident in the bottom line, in addition to the other contributions a safety program brings to the workplace. The key is to sell those other benefits.

Numerous marketing campaign studies demonstrate that people are more likely to buy a product when its benefits are highlighted compared to when the competition’s downsides are highlighted. Similarly, throughout my career, I have had greater success highlighting the benefits of a proactive safety program to stakeholders rather than stressing the negative consequences of not implementing a program.

Successfully encouraging all potential partners to buy into the safety program can only be accomplished by comprehensively selling the benefits of a strong safety program. These benefits include greater profits; improved work force morale; reduced insurance costs; industry recognition; greater opportunity in future project bids; and more.

When these benefits are shared and understood, barriers such as a lack of trust, lack of commitment and inadequate training are often mitigated. Only then can the goal of safe production be met.

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