Survey results on construction safety culture raises serious concerns

Safety Culture Leadership Forum was recently held by the Master Builders Association in Canberra which revealed a shocking culture present on Oz’s construction sites. A survey conducted showed that almost 94 per cent of the study respondents believed that getting the job done is the most important thing to construction site safety.

The respondents included 125 middle and senior managers who answered questions relating to safety in the construction industry.

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Respondents included directors, managers, project managers, engineers, supervisors and foremen (94%), and construction workers (6%). They were given rapid-fire questions with only a few seconds to answer using a keypad. Fairfax Media further reported that this method is used to understand “gut feelings,” rather than give respondents time to regurgitate their company policy.


 The survey showed that 9 out of 10 builders agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I take shortcuts when I can if it is safe.”


 It also found that many of them perceived safety compliance as overly complex and burdensome. Most of the respondents did not believe that present regulations sufficiently prepared people for workplace safety.


 According to Dr Long, hubris or “risk arrogance” is one of the most common cultural characteristics among industry personnel in building and construction.


 “The idea that building and construction people perceive that they can manage anything indicates a lack of reflection, insight and understanding of risk uncertainty,” said Dr Long.


 Half of the respondents said the key to safety was being careful but Dr Long said this response was naive as most people cannot tell the difference between “complacency” and being “careful.”


 Eight in ten respondents believed that “safety processes are so complex when all you need is commonsense.” In addition, 73 percent agreed or strongly agreed that incidents tend to happen to careless people.


 “This high percentage of people in building or construction who blame others, circumstance or themselves for events is fostered by simplistic understanding of risk … and totally misunderstands the nature of incident causation,” said Dr Long


 There were contradictory responses including 77 percent agreeing or strongly agreeing that their organisation was prepared to deal with anything if it went wrong but only 49 percent agreeing their organisations are spending enough time in identifying possible work hazards or risks.


According to the survey managers have negative attitudes towards the unions approach to safety and the role they play in ensuring it. In fact it showed that managers view unions as bullies who use the workers to fulfil their own means. An even more disturbing characteristic that was revealed was that most respondents believe that being caught is the main cause of concern and not actually instilling a culture of safety on site.

Safety regulations may actually be hampering safety rather than increasing it because many revealed that they spend more time filling in forms that actually concerning themselves with workplace safety.  This survey has raised many concerns about the culture of safety lacking on construction sites. It also reveals that current regulation is not enough to ensure safety on construction sites, if workers don’t change their attitudes. A lack of attention to site safety is evident and much needs to be done to improve safety starting with a mind-set change from the director all the way down, workers need to adjust their attitudes to safety.

They can start by ensuring all workers have undergone the appropriate White Card Training. This will ensure workers are more aware of safety and the hazards that may be presented on various sites as well as how to overcome them, this is vital for an improved safety record in the industry.