How do construction companies measure their project’s safety performance?

Many of them may use the number of injuries or accidents as a safety performance indicator, but does absence of injury or accident truly reflect a safe workplace? Safety is not simply the absence of accidents.

Lagging indicators, such as the number of injuries or accidents, have limitations. They only reflect what happened in the past but they cannot provide directions for improvement. That’s why leading indicators are needed to measure safety performance.

Safety climate is one of the leading indicators of safety performance. It reflects the employees’ perceptions of safety within a company.

A positive safety climate not only reduces injuries but also contributes to improving production. The is no consensus on how many – or which – factors contribute most to safety climate, but common ones include management commitment, communication, safety resources, employees’ participation, and safety training.

Construction companies should choose the appropriate safety climate assessment tool that fits the company. There are two main types of choices: non-industry specific safety climate tools and construction industry specific safety climate tools.

An example of non-specific safety climate measurement tools is the Nordic Occupational Safety Climate Questionnaire (NOSACQ-50). NOSACQ-50 has been translated into many different languages and applied in different industries such as manufacturing.

An example of a construction safety climate tool is the Safety Climate Index (SCI) developed by the Hong Kong Occupational Safety and Health Council. Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has offered some guidelines for companies to choose an appropriate safety climate tool that suits their context. Things to be considered include checking validity and reliability of the tool, gathering feedback for a pilot survey, finding out how to analyse the data and interpret the results.

CPWR – The Centre for Construction Research and Training in the United States has recently developed an online Safety Climate Assessment Tool (S-CAT)  for adoption by the construction industry in the US. There are eight safety climate factors:

  • demonstrating management commitment
  • aligning and integrating safety as a value
  • ensuring accountability at all levels
  • improving supervisory leadership
  • empowering and involving employees
  • improving communication
  • training at all levels
  • encouraging owner/client involvement

Construction companies can request a company-based report. There are industry benchmarks of every safety climate factor in the database. CPWR also offers concrete strategies for companies to consider how to improve each safety climate factor of S-CAT. Construction companies can make use of the ideas or strategies designed for each safety climate factor for improvement and develop their own time frames to implement the strategies.

While there have been research initiatives on developing a safety climate assessment tool for the Australian construction industry, more needs to be done before such a tool can be implemented nation-wide. Further research will help to build up a national safety climate database for the Australian construction industry, which will show industry level safety climate benchmarks. Construction companies may compare their safety climate factor scores with the benchmarks to identity any areas for potential improvement.