Why is "safety culture" in construction so important?

When Paul O’Neill took over the helm of Alcoa (the world’s largest aluminium producer) in 1987, it was a company lacking direction and suffering losses. Famously, he changed the fortunes of the company by announcing he had one overriding goal: he wanted to make it the safest company in the world to work for. The result was improved safety, rising revenues, and a ballooning bottom line.

The lesson for all companies, and particularly those in ‘more dangerous’ industries such as construction, is that creating a culture of safety across the business drives so much more than safety alone: it positively impacts morale, staff retention, and the whole corporate environment. This, in turn, helps drive profit.

Here we look at how to develop an environment where safety is part of your corporate culture.

Who needs to be involved in producing a safety culture?

While a culture of safety needs to be driven from the top, all workers will need to have a vested interest. The experience and knowledge of each individual should be used and communicated throughout: safety affects everyone, and responsibility should be owned by everyone.

How do you write a meaningful safety policy?

By involving everyone in the company, you’ll fully understand all the issues involved. Consult managers and supervisors and request their input. Note the hazards, receive commitment from your people, and not only will your safety policy and procedure document be a ‘catch all’ but also prove effective.

Can external consultants help?

At Alcoa, O’Neill didn’t just rely on internal people. He used external specialists to examine the present and construct a safer future.

Such consultants will have wide industry experience and be able to advice on general and industry specific best practices, helping you to hone your policies and working procedures to industry leading standards.

By also encouraging interaction between these consultants and front line workers, you’ll nurture a togetherness that will further enhance your desire to make safety a mainstay of your corporate culture.

How can you encourage a safety culture?

There are things you can do to encourage your people to adopt a culture of safety. One of the important things is to let them know that not only is it important to you, but it is owned by them. There are several things you can do to achieve this:

  • Place a suggestion box and request ideas. This could be a physical, on-site, actual ‘box’, or perhaps a virtual idea box, perhaps a dedicated internal email address. Whatever you use, ensure that you consider all suggestions and perhaps even awarding a prize for the best.

  • Put on the agenda of team meetings. At site and team meetings, make sure that health and safety issues are discussed as top priority. Elevating to this level, rather than hearing issues only as ‘any other business’, will elevate their perceived and real importance.

  • Place the latest safety news on a notice board. Better still, have a dedicated H&S notice board, and provide a dedicated page for news and procedural changes on your website. Ensuring that all regulatory changes are announced will reinforce how important you consider safety to be.

You’ve tried using external consultants with other projects but with mixed results. Is there anything you can do to ensure greater success?

External consultants bring a wealth of expertise and knowledge to your efforts, and work best when working closely with your people to combine this knowledge and your internal experience. This will require positioning from senior and middle management, and in particular they will need to:

  • Speak with a clear message