Engaging Workforce Safety


I’m often asked what all the fuss is about employee engagement. A lot of people think its a ‘nice to have’, but it can be a matter of life and death. I’m not trying to make this article dramatic, I’m just passionate about everyone in construction going home to their families safe at the end of their shift.

As a civil engineer on construction sites in the UK and overseas I have seen and heard about many accidents and many more ‘near-misses’. If you are unfamiliar with what the latter combination of words means, a definition is written below….

“Any event, activity or incident where there was a potential to cause harm”

The majority of UK construction companies encourage the reporting of near misses because patterns of behaviour can be analysed and actions taken to avoid near misses turning into something more serious.

It goes without saying that the reporting is important, but I really encourage companies to look at the way in which near misses are recorded. The common way is by report cards that are filled out similar to those shown opposite. In my experience site operatives can often see it as ‘just’ another piece of paperwork rather than understanding it is a really important way of reducing accidents and suffering to themselves, colleagues and members of the public.

In the UK, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employees to take reasonable care for the health and safety of themselves and other people at work. This extends to co-operating to enable the employer to fulfill its legal duty.

Anyone who has held a position of management on a construction site will know how difficult it can be to get the ‘cooperation’ they request from the workforce. With all of the risk assessments, method statements and toolbox talks, it used to amaze me what dangerous situations some operatives would be happy to put themselves in. Not only that, fellow workers would also be happy to stand and watch without intervening. IN my experience it would always take someone in a ‘management’ position to state the obvious and stop whatever it was.

I’ve often questioned and still do, why someone would put themselves in danger when they have been told many times that if an activity is not safe then they have the permission to stop until an alternative and safer way is decided.

What is getting lost in translation?

Do the workforce believe they are immortal and an accident won’t happen to them? Do they think the boss doesn’t mean what they say about safety? Do they think they will get the sack if they stop working even if it is unsafe? Do they think its easier to ignore something unsafe than actually do something about it?

I believe one of the main reasons why the workforce don’t see safety as important as maybe ‘management’ is due to everyone’s unique perception, attitudes and values driven by their individual view of consequences. If someone has a stronger work ethic of ‘getting the job done’ rather than ‘getting the job done safely’ its understandable they will be less likely to stop a job for safety reasons. On the other hand ‘management’ know the consequences of incidents and accidents will come back on them and therefore avoiding them is of higher value.

Changing people’s perception, attitudes and values around safety isn’t easy but as an industry we must do more if we are to reduce incidents, accidents and fatalities. We must find ways of engaging every single operative on-site to place the same value and importance on health and safety as managers do.

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