Remodeling can expose workers to safety risks not found in static environments such as manufacturing. Because your employees’ work environment continuously changes, they’re not as familiar with each location’s potential dangers, so it’s difficult for them to monitor and avoid hazards. Your work procedures should emphasize the less-tangible skill of situational awareness, which requires employees to be caring, vigilant, and have a genuine commitment to safety.
How do you encourage this culture of safety? Certainly, an emotionally powerful event — experiencing or witnessing a serious injury — can have a lasting impact and can influence attitudes toward safety. But you can’t wait for a harrowing near-miss situation to motivate your site crews, and you certainly don’t want to orchestrate one just to make safety training more effective!
While it would be nice if all your employees would memorize OSHA 29 CFR 1926.850(b) (Subpart T), plus the other 10,000 provisions in OSHA’s construction industry regulations, the reality is that many people feel invincible and view safety training like math homework: they don’t think they’ll ever need to use what they learn. This is especially so if their training is focused on rules and regulations rather than behavior and culture. That can result in a lack of caring — of carelessness — that increases the likelihood of injury, and the effort needed to prevent it.
It is said that behavior influences attitude, and attitude influences behavior. One of the most effective means of influencing both is through peer pressure, or validation. Since perceived motives can affect how a message is heard, it matters who delivers that message.
Because of this, employees are often more successful at influencing their peers than are managers. As such, employees who demonstrate interest and aptitude with safety procedures should be recognized and used as models for desired behavior. Any employees who have personal experience, whether from a near-miss or an injury to themselves or a past co-worker, should be encouraged to share that with the group.
For even greater impact at your safety meetings, recruit individuals from outside the company who have suffered serious, even disabling, workplace injuries. Ask them to explain in detail how their injury has affected their lives. The more vivid and personal the story, the more likely it is that employees will remember and care about it in the future. A dramatic message can have an authentic emotional impact on your employees, increasing the potential for a breakthrough in attitude.
Many years ago, a wise karate instructor in Okinawa named Gichin Funakoshi taught his students a profound lesson that we should all heed, for very similar reasons. His simple message was, “Carelessness comes before accidents.”
—Rick Provost has more than 20 years experience helping to build the country’s largest design/build franchise network. He is now a principal in SMI Safety, a safety consulting and staffing business. firstname.lastname@example.org
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