Driving the Why: Construction Safety 1

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Wednesday, October 21st, 2015
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Do you ever find yourself chasing spot fire after spot fire when it comes to safety?

Running from one minor problem to another, not wearing gloves, not signed onto the JHA, “where’s your hard hat?” and on and on. What exactly are you achieving? You might say, “that’s my job as a supervisor, make sure everyone is doing the right thing, keeping an eye on everyone.”

I disagree; rectifying those minor problems is not your job, your job is to ‘drive the why.’ Finding those minor problems is only the first step of your job.

Remember that nothing comes from nothing. The butterfly effect is just as present in the construction industry as it is anywhere else. Not wearing gloves isn’t the beginning or the end of that minor issue. If you don’t address the real reason today, you will continue to have to address the minor issue again and again and again.

Dig a little deeper.

Why weren’t you wearing gloves? “They don’t work for this job, I can’t feel through them and I need to for this job.”

Why haven’t you told someone about this? “I did, but they said I’d have to make do because that’s all we have.”

Why did you accept that answer? “I didn’t think I had a choice.”

You can quickly see how a conversation leads to the source of the problem, and there might be multiple sources. Whilst wearing gloves is a minor issue, ‘driving the why’ in the normal course of your job will not only solve more actual issues but it will also uncover major issues that lay under the surface. It will also ensure that people know you are not just there to police them but to solve problems.

The other important aspect of this process is to not punish small transgressions until you have dug a little deeper. Once you have a full understanding of the reasons, then you can make an informed decision on how to deal with the situation. Of course there should be a process to deal with blatant failure to follow the safety rules, but if the bigger picture shows failures down the line or in a different part of the picture, don’t punish the messenger. Go to the source of the problem and deal with it.

Remember, safety is no different to any other part of the construction industry in this respect – if you solve the source of a problem, then you haven’t just solved a small problem today, you have solved a series of small problems in your future and possible prevented a serious incident.

Safety is a never-ending conversation with everyone on site. Remember, people want to talk about issues that affect them, so digging a little deeper will give you access to information that you may never get otherwise.

Sometimes as a supervisor, in order to see the big picture you need to ask the little questions.

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  1. Tom Lee

    This makes plain common sense and highlights the bottom line in that safety is not a 'check the box' matter but rather a two way process of mutually respectful communication.

    Whilst in the above example it is pleasing to see a genuine commitment to safety at the detailed level on the part of the supervisor concerned, the challenge for organisations is to address safety not just at the detailed level (which is important) but also to engage in two-way dialogue with the workforce about why they do what they do and how things might alternatively be approached.