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Worksite Safety Is a Top-Down Process

Most safety programs found on construction sites focus on worker buy-in to accomplish safety objectives and create a safer work environment. The typical methods employed have been to train and re-train workers, provide incentives for achieving safety goals, develop disciplinary consequences for failure to comply and monitor the success or failure of the safety program by auditing worker performance. While this methodology provides some measure of success, ultimately, it will reach a point of diminishing returns.

This type of approach is “bottom-up.” In other words those with the least ability to make decisions that can affect outcomes are given the responsibility for the overall success of the system. For a safety program to function as planned, it must be managed properly. Managing requires the ability to plan and control the effective use of resources, assess risk and make decisions to eliminate or at least minimize that risk. These are “top-down” responsibilities, meaning they fall under the responsibility of those in management. Therefore, the success of any construction site safety program has to start with management buy-in and follow through to the workers.

Management buy-in has to be more than just lip service. Workers follow by example, not words. If management fails to carry out safety program requirements by allowing workers to take shortcuts to meet productivity quotas, they undermine the program at its very core. To create a safe work environment, safety procedures must become an inherent part of operations and workers must be required to follow them at all times, even if they might slow productivity.

The most important management figures in this scenario are foremen because they have direct oversight of work crews. The foreman has the authority to direct how work is performed and make necessary decisions to accommodate changes. They should be held responsible for ensuring that the work has been properly planned, a risk assessment has been conducted, and that only safe work practices are followed on the worksite.

There is often a breakdown in the adherence to safety on this level because newly promoted supervisors are not provided management training in directing work flow or managing change. They must be trained to meet the organization’s goals and objectives by managing performance. To manage performance, foremen need to learn how to establish objectives and create standards that will accomplish productivity goals without sacrificing safety. They also need to be trained in how to communicate these objectives to employees and provide motivation to comply. In this way, both management and workers will have clearly established expectations for which they can be held accountable.

The final component in the success of any safety program is the organization itself. It must provide the resources, knowledge, and tools to enable management and employees to be successful. It is this support that keeps the safety program from becoming a stand-alone incentive and rather integrates it into the overall operation, which is the best way to ensure its success.

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