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June 4, 2015

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How employers can improve behavioural safety in construction

construction-worker-569126_640By Mark Paterson, senior risk manager at QBE

The construction industry employs 5 per cent of workers in the UK yet accounts for 31 per cent of all workplace fatalities, the highest of all industry sectors. With “Target Zero” being the industry’s ultimate goal and employees and managers required to be familiar with the law and their own organisation’s policies, why is there still a problem?

Part of the issue is an over-reliance on individuals’ behaviour on site and if workers are flouting safety procedures themselves or failing to report the failings of others, the problem continues to grow. There are three main behaviours that can have a serious effect on site safety and turning them from a negative to a positive is not complex but does require commitment from senior management.

  1. Complacency

One of the key contributors to accidents at work is complacency. Low risk, repetitive tasks contribute to a large percentage of work-based incidents. For familiar and/or simple tasks workers’ risk perception is reduced and as a result an “it will never happen to me” attitude can prevail. This can lead to the most severe injuries.

What employers can do:

  • Remind employees that low-risk activities can cause severe injuries and provide examples
  • Emphasise the risk of injury through complacency
  • Explain the difficulty of maintaining focus on repetitive and simple activities.
  • Emphasise the importance of following procedures and wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  1. Ownership

Construction sites often have many workers, trades and companies working alongside one another. This poses a significant challenge with regard to worker safety. Silo mentality, rivalry and mistrust can all present themselves through negative worker behaviours, with people focusing only on their designated tasks and refusing to take a holistic view of the overall work environment.


What employers can do:


  • Encourage a consultative approach to working methods on site
  • Recognise positive ownership and those that take responsibility for colleagues’ safety
  • Ensure the leadership team encourage honesty


  1. Culture


The critical success factors in creating a safety culture are the confidence and capability for individuals not only to look after themselves but also their workmates. Individuals who are willing to challenge unsafe acts are the drivers of a robust and enduring safety culture.


What employers can do:


  • Develop and promote a whistle blowing policy to enable and encourage employees to raise concerns freely and without fear of recrimination
  • Involve employees in the development of this policy as it will greatly influence the success of its implementation
  • Ensure that the policy is understood and enforced by management
  • Promote the positive outcomes of whistle blowing to reinforce the message to workers that this is something the company encourages.


For more information on behavioural safety and other health and safety challenges for the Construction sector, download QBE’s Protecting Employees on site guide.


Mark_Paterson_03636400Mark Paterson, senior risk manager, QBE

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Ray Rapp
Ray Rapp
9 years ago

I agree that any safety initiatives relay on the committment os senior management but, therein lies the problem. The notion of whistle blowing as a means of improving site safety is goos as far as it goes, it just will not happen at the lower levels. Most supervisors and front line managers do their utmost to conceal unsafe acts and conditions. Finally, whilst many accidents/incidents occur due to human error, this masks the underlying reasons, in my experience poor planning, lack of resources, poor supervision and so on are the true causal factors.

Tamara Parris
Tamara Parris
9 years ago
Reply to  Ray Rapp

great post Ray!

Tamara Parris
Tamara Parris
9 years ago

great article, thank you for sharing such great ideas. I would love postings like this on my EHS Community boards for our members to think over and discuss. What I have found over my years of in field experiences is; we as EHS Professional need to champion safety not only with our site workers but also with other Department and Division Heads throughout the company. So many times I would hear a Division Head asking for something to be done that was counter to H&S best practices, just to get their deliverable on-time, or make the numbers work for their… Read more »

John Smythers
John Smythers
8 years ago

Really interesting post,

I completely agree with the fact there is an over-reliance on individuals’ behaviour on site and if workers are flouting safety procedures themselves or failing to report the failings of others, the problem continues to grow. I can’t help but think these organisations are delegating the correct safety procedures and training that is needed within the safety construction industry. These companies need to step up and implement or even re-do the safety programmes, in order to avoid any accidents.