Why do construction workers take risks?

by Alex on September 19, 2017

Construction Site Risks

Despite the many risk assessments and disciplinary procedures prevalent in the construction industry, workers continue to risk their health and safety on-site.

If workplace safety is governed by employee behaviour, it’s interesting to consider why people take these risks.

Lack of awareness and poor communication

A study published in Health & Safety Practitioner magazine revealed that construction workers in Britain are immune to targets and training when delivered in isolation.

This is why standards of behaviour are usually improved by increasing awareness and creating a culture within the workplace that encourages proactive communication between management and the workforce.

Research conducted by the University of Maryland-College Park found that if someone knows another person who has taken a particular risk, they’re more willing to take it themselves.

But, this should work both ways.

If construction workers recognise the risks they face and proactively avoid them, the same peer pressure should have a far more positive impact. This can only result from ‘behavioural goal-setting’, where milestones are created to help raise standards, with each new target tightened and given some form of financial incentive.

Poor leadership

“Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t quite cut it in construction. If your manager blatantly ignores warnings and puts their own personal safety at risk, why wouldn’t you do the same?

As we’ve already learned, people are more likely to take risks with health and safety under peer pressure. For instance, working at height remains one of the key construction site risks, and if management show a blatant disregard for harnessing and other safety gear, that attitude will filter down the chain of command.

Site and line managers should be empowered to act decisively and swiftly whenever poor behaviour is witnessed. Equally, the task of investigating incidents should be completed thoroughly, with the findings shared among the entire workforce.

Too much ‘banter’

There’s nothing quite like healthy workplace banter to build strong construction site teams, but if it goes too far, people will place themselves in danger.

The University of Maryland-College Park’s research also found that people are easily tempted into taking risks in social situations, and if the social element of a workforce starts to take precedence over safety, there can be dire consequences.

Think about some of the most common construction site risks:

  • Asbestos
  • Collapse of excavations and trenches
  • Manual handling and lifting
  • Moving objects
  • Heavy machinery (which is often vehicle-based)
  • Electric shock

All of the above require concentration and the full attention of the workforce. A joke that has been taken too far or a drawn-out discussion about last night’s box set marathon could be all it takes for a risk to make its presence felt.

Insufficient training

A common cause of workplace incidents in construction is employees not fully understanding the detail contained within risk assessments. They need to know what it means to them, but you shouldn’t expect every worker to intrinsically understand what the risk assessment says.

This is why many assessments actually include provisions for training that might be directly related to the work being undertaken.

With the right training delivered at the most appropriate time, employees will know how to perform tasks safely and how they should behave while on-site.

Improving behaviour and the health and safety culture on construction sites is a complex challenge.

Beyond the goal-setting and training, your business will need a genuine desire to build a safety-first culture which is led by management and filtered down into every corner of the organisation. It might be a good idea to look at how software can help distribute this learning from management down to the workers and by having them more engaged in this process.

Try HANDS HQ – a software solution for creating site-specific risk assessments and method statements in minutes.

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