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unveiling the hidden challenges: exploring the nuances of safety culture.



Safety on construction sites is critical so it was heartening when the results of our recent poll relating to safety culture indicated an overall positive response. In this post, we will explore the importance of rigorous safety culture on construction sites, unveil the hidden challenges that face our industry and consider areas in which improvements are necessary to cultivate a cycle of continuous improvement.

The importance of safety on construction sites

Health and safety on construction sites not only protects the workforce but is also required to comply with legislation. There are a range of health and safety risks that must be assessed on every construction site, which include, amongst many others, working at height, operating heavy machinery, lifting heavy weights and exposure to dust and chemicals.

The likelihood of injury and even death is high for construction workers who do not abide by the safety processes that are mandated by their organisation, and failure to enforce those processes can result in the company being fined or subjected to legal action should injury or death of a worker occur.

In the reporting period of 2021/22, 30 construction workers lost their lives in work-related accidents [1]. With our poll suggesting that the overall safety culture of the construction industry is good, being the leading sector for workplace deaths appears to contradict this perception. 

Challenges facing the construction industry

One reason why the construction industry has experienced such a significant number of workplace deaths and yet remains in an overall acceptable health and safety position could be due to the sheer scale of organisations and people operating within the industry, which reduces the percentage value of these deaths, though it does not excuse them.

It is anticipated that the UK's construction workforce will stand at 2.79 million [2] by the end of this year, so those 30 deaths represent a mere 0.0001% of the workforce. 

Those working in the industry are familiar with the everyday hazards that their jobs require them to face, such as manual handling, loud noises, vibrations, the risk of collapse, asbestos and working at height. The risks that are less often discussed are the risks of exhaustion and suicide. 

Construction work is hard, manual labour, often conducted over long hours in potentially harsh weather conditions. When a worker becomes physically or mentally exhausted, they can make mistakes which can cause injury to themselves or others. 

The number one cause of fatalities in the construction industry is reported to be suicide, with 34 out of every 100,000 [3] workers taking their own lives in 2021. Mental health, therefore, is clearly an area that needs urgent attention, and as well as health and safety, organisations should look to their business culture, preventing bullying and ensuring that their workers are paid and treated fairly for the work that they do.

Promoting a culture of continuous safety improvements

The most important element for improving health and safety on construction sites is to break silence and mandate that all near misses are to be reported, not only accidents. By empowering workers to speak up and report safety concerns without fear of reprisal, it is possible to put in place measures to prevent a near miss from becoming an accident.

It is crucial to address the mental and emotional well-being of construction workers. Organisations must take proactive measures to reduce worker stress and fatigue, to fairly compensate them for their efforts, to prevent bullying and mistreatment and to put in place support measures to help staff to develop their skills and career path.

Technology should be embraced where it can result in enhanced safety outcomes for workers. This can range from wearable devices through to drones and AI-powered monitoring systems, and much more. These advances in technology can significantly aid in hazard identification and resolution, reduce manual labour requirements and improve overall safety performance.

As the construction industry attracts entrants from a diverse range of backgrounds, it is essential that the safety culture of every organisation adequately addresses the unique safety challenges that those workers may face. 

Finally, it is essential that the drive to maintain profitability does not come at the expense of worker safety. Everybody is aware that costs are high and budgets are stretched, yet the human nature of the job must never be overlooked. Responsible organisations must prioritise staff safety above financial considerations.

Conclusion

Whilst we are delighted that the respondents to our poll regard the safety culture in the construction industry as being good, we believe that there are many areas in which improvements can be made and we hope that this article ignites conversation and prompts meaningful change for the benefit of everybody in our sector.

Resources:

[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/292275/fatal-injuries-at-work-great-britain-by-employment-by-industry/ 
[2] https://archdesk.com/blog/construction-statistics-2023/#:~:text=Recruitment%20is%20mainly%20focused%20on,peak%2C%20according%20to%20the%20CITB. 
[3] https://www.britsafe.org/publications/safety-management-magazine/safety-management-magazine/2022/mental-health-in-construction-building-the-next-storey/#:~:text=Suicide%20rates%20have%20also%20increased,per%20100%2C000%20seven%20years%20ago.

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