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April 17, 2005

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Upstanding behaviour

The Engineering Construction Industry Association’s (ECIA) Behaviour and Slips and Trips (BEST) initiative suggests a host of approaches that construction companies could adopt as part of a slip and trip reduction programme. Andrew Sansom takes us through some of the scheme’s key pointers.

As two of the leading disciples of slapstick humour, comic legends Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton were often tripping up and falling over in the name of comedy. But in the real world, slips and trips rarely raise a chuckle; they are potentially very serious accidents, and approaching this issue from a behavioural safety angle may be the first step in tackling the problem.

That is the view of the ECIA, which suggests that if behavioural safety techniques are embedded into an organisation’s culture, then they will have a positive impact on managing other common risks, such as being hit by moving vehicles or objects, bumping into fixed objects, and lifting and carrying injuries.

Commitment from above
It is essential, however, that any practical initiatives implemented under the behavioural safety banner, are watermarked by senior management. Put simply, if support and commitment from corporate heads is neither visible nor sustained then a behavioural safety strategy is doomed from day one. So senior managers need to set the tone and they can do so via a number of ways, including:
* implementing clear/tidy desk policies in site offices;
* insisting that mess rooms are kept in good order;
* consistently challenging untidy conditions when out on site; and
* picking up rubbish rather than walking past it.

Companies could also consider making active pursuit of behavioural safety culture an explicit part of the job description for managers.

Holding the cards
Workers, meanwhile, should be encouraged to complete simple card proformas before starting work. Card proformas are designed for workers to check that:
* they understand what it is they are about to do;
* they know how they are going to go about it;
* they have everything that they need to do the job safely; and
* there are no previously anticipated problems.

It is important, however, to ensure that card proformas do not regress into a ‘box-ticking’ exercise, which will only create a false impression that risks are being considered and managed effectively.

Supervisors have a key role to play in this respect and requirements that they discuss a completed proforma with at least one team, at least once a day, may be an effective means of ensuring that workers not only tick boxes but are able to both understand and justify what they have recorded. From time to time supervisors could also meet to review samples of the completed cards. Adopting such an approach should help to foster common standards across a company, enhancing the likelihood of agreed standards being achieved.

Employee involvement should be focused on practical issues, where workers’ ability to provide detailed knowledge on real site conditions, can be taken into account. For example, supervisors and site managers could brief workers on the method statements for the next day’s task the day before. This would allow workers’ awareness of how a statement translates into the reality of the site environment to be considered. For example, they might identify that access to a site is narrow and if materials were stored on the other side of the stairway it would be much easier to carry them about.

Keep it interesting
A lackadaisical attitude to housekeeping can set in if encouragement to maintain high standards of attention to detail is not sustained. But there are ways to make housekeeping more ‘exciting’, and some companies run incentive schemes to maintain workers’ interest. Initiatives might include:
* Hazard or rubbish-spotting incentives, which offer a prize – eg. a scratch card or canteen voucher – for the ‘best spot’.
* A weekly prize for the team which maintains the tidiest workplace.
* A prize to the contracting firm that fills its skip with the correct rubbish in the quickest time, eg. a free canteen lunch for all the winning contractor’s site employees.
* Setting aside an amount in the project budget for cash donations to charity if behavioural safety performance targets on slips and trips are met.
* Awarding scratch cards to teams who can show good pre-start consideration of their work.

These types of promotions are said to work best when they are used to support clearly-defined company commitments. For example, posters which simply urge workers to ‘be tidy’ can quickly become redundant. But a poster which expounds the ‘be tidy’ message against a picture of last week’s workplace team winners will create more interest and make the message more relevant and up to date. Other marketing tips include:
* Putting up a picture of current incentive winners at main site offices, or perhaps on a sign at the main entrance, recording site safety performance to date.
* Sending out a simple weekly summary of site safety performance to all sites.
* Including a wipe-clean space on generic ‘be tidy’ posters where site-specific messages can be written, eg. ‘Skips will be emptied on Tuesday this week’. Again, this will reinforce the safety message by keeping posters both relevant and up to date.
* Working with a client to raise your safety issues and successes through some form of site-wide newsletter.

Planning work
Many slip and trip hazards can be dealt with as part of generic risk assessments. While generic formats are well placed to assess routine issues, it is seen as being essential that the planning procedure allows non-standard situations to be properly addressed. For example, if contractors’ normal practice is to store all materials on site but the current client states they have to be delivered as and when they are needed, then this has to be addressed in the risk assessment.

Good housekeeping might seem obvious but workers need to know what standards are expected of them if best practices are to be upheld. Therefore, successful implementation of slip and trip reduction programmes also requires effective training. This does not need to be extensive or complex but should be integrated with training on other issues as part of a standard induction or ongoing toolbox talks. It is generally considered that toolbox talks on slips and trips, and similar ‘low intensity’ hazards, are likely to be most effective when delivered in response to matters encountered on the particular site involved.

Monitor, measure and investigate
Incident statistics are by no means the only thing that can be measured quantitatively. Near-misses and levels of compliance with policy requirements can also be analysed in this way. For example, a company may have a policy that sites have to be cleaned up between 3 and 4pm every Friday. Monitoring whether this actually happens can be more effective than waiting for and recording actual injuries. But it is also accepted that major improvements are unlikely unless qualitative issues are audited and fed back into the management decision-making process. Potential methods include:
* introducing team site inspections to judge the acceptability of overall housekeeping standards;
* challenging the quality of workers’ ‘stop and think’ conclusions; and
* periodically reviewing assessment and method statement records.

Slips and trips are the most common types of accident in engineering construction but, by focusing on slips and trips as a behavioural safety issue, genuine advances can be achieved. Ultimately, however, changing behaviour is a long process and few would disagree that it requires positive leadership from management and sustained dedication from supervisors and workers. If these ingredients are in place then companies will be better placed to wave good riddance to ‘slapstick’ and welcome in stand-up.

For more details on the ECIA’s BEST initiative visit


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