Changing the Safety Culture in Construction

Changing the Safety Culture in Construction

15th July 2019

Despite our stringent health and safety at work legislation here in the UK, accidents still happen – this was clearly demonstrated in our report last week on the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE’s) latest workplace fatality statistics.   The statistics revealed that the construction industry is the second most risky sector in which to work, experiencing 30 deaths, just two below the riskiest sector, which is agriculture, forestry and fishing which accounted for 32 fatalities.  Whilst the construction sector accounts for 6.8% of all jobs in the UK, employing a workforce of 2.5 million, the most common cause of fatal accidents were falls from height, followed closely by being hit by a moving vehicle or moving object.

Construction work, by its very nature involves working at height, often on sites where vehicles (whether construction machinery or delivery vehicles) are moving around on a constant basis and where tools and materials may often fall from above.  These are all potential danger points, so paying attention to health and safety is vital when working in the building trade.  Indeed, work at height is often considered the most significant potential hazard on risk assessments, often eliciting a transactional approach to managing the risk, such as issuing permits, procedures and methods of work to control actions.

However, some recent reports on high profile industrial accidents have pointed to “toxic cultures” existing within some of the organisations, undermining the possibility of creating a positive safety culture, often by covering up near-misses and unsafe actions which could otherwise be used as great teaching moments to raise awareness of the need for stringent safety measures within the organisation.  This has resulted in many cases in near-misses or unsafe behaviour not being reported, which means that the behaviour carries on unfettered and the necessary changes and improvements are not made. 

Health and safety practitioners cite the importance of reporting all accidents, near misses, mistakes and risky behaviours to that these incidents can be used to change and improve the safety culture within an organisation.  Employees should be encouraged to come forward, safe in the knowledge that they will not be ignored or penalised for the mistakes they’ve made or for openly reporting these problems.  The processes in place for reporting accidents and near misses should be easy to use, confidential and used to improve the situation going forward.

A positive and robust safety culture is vital within any company, but especially so within construction companies.  The traditional, male-based blasé attitude towards safety is no longer acceptable or appropriate and our sector has made great inroads in recent years in promoting and adopting positive safety culture.  It’s time now for everybody involved in all aspects of construction here in the UK to put health and safety at the forefront, on every job, and on every worksite across Britain.