Workplace Safety is Keyed to Culture, Not Regulations

Changing conditions, heavy moving machinery, intense labor concentrations — construction sites have everything that makes safety engineers shudder.

📅   Mon October 26, 2015 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson


Advocates of lean construction say that process also can contribute to safer workplaces.
Advocates of lean construction say that process also can contribute to safer workplaces.

Anyone familiar with construction sites knows they are dangerous places. Changing conditions, heavy moving machinery, intense labor concentrations—construction sites have everything that makes safety engineers shudder. The sad news is that, in 2014, workplace fatalities increased, including among construction and mining workers.

Consequently, some advocates of workplace safety want more rules and more stringent enforcement of them. Others note that tighter OSHA rules and stricter enforcement haven’t worked miracles to this point and suggest other solutions, such as more education to change workers’ mindsets.

Some construction industry observers argue that most safety incidents are the result of bad decisions by the victim. A human tendency is to think that safety harnesses and hard hats don’t have to be utilized all the time, or at least not this time. Then an untimely accident proves the thinking wrong. Getting workers to buy into safety systems is part of the solution.

The other part is establishing a culture of safety in which an employee feels some responsibility for employees working around him. Until such a culture is in place, a worker is inclined not to say anything to a peer who is flouting safety rules. Live and let live, or let die, is the mindset. Progressive companies instill in craft leaders and supervisors the principle that workers are all in it together when it comes to safety.

Advocates of lean construction say that process also can contribute to safer workplaces. By pre-planning to minimize wasted time and effort on a project, lean construction programs effectively reduce the number of times a machine moves across a construction space, an employee puts himself in harm’s way, or materials are handled. This in turn reduces opportunities for accidents.

Furthermore, a well-planned, lean program should lessen “do-overs” on a site. That is especially helpful because employees won’t have to perform less practiced tasks, such as pulling apart a wall or relocating aggregate. Less frequently ordered tasks are generally not as well organized and are more likely to put people in hazardous situations.

Safety is a top concern, but regulations aren’t always the answer.