Safety mantras are normalcy to a wide range of industries and rarely receive scrutiny or criticism. However, in the construction industry, where injuries and fatalities are prevalent, informational deficits and misunderstandings regarding safety can be detrimental to employees and clients. Despite the growing number of safety buzzwords, prudent advice, and on-site protocols, there still appears to be a disconnect between quoting and following such regulations.
Fortunately, many construction companies have attended to the knowledge gap, understanding that safety misconceptions can accelerate errors and risk hazards. This SBGP Exclusive Whitepaper will review 13 common safety myths specific to the construction industry and determine how some notions, while they appear “surface-level safe,” can prove to be the opposite.
MYTH #1: SAFETY MEANS BEING OSHA COMPLIANT
While being compliant with OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is a standard for construction businesses, it doesn’t automatically create an accident-proof environment. OSHA’s regulations are overarching, designed to establish basic precautions, and prevent generically hazardous situations. Therefore, safety programs
that align singularly to OSHA regulations are highly prone to outlier scenarios and potential risks. While their rules are undoubtedly necessary to create a safe work area, even OSHA recognizes in their General Duty Clause; they cannot prevent all accidents from occurring. Therefore, they should be enforced primarily as a place to start.
What does this mean for your business? You need to incorporate a set of safety regulations that are OSHA-compliant and cover more specific individualized components. Continual awareness of dangers and risks clear to your current job site and employees is vital. Many companies that are strictly OSHA-compliant tend to achieve average injury rates. As challenges and risks are unique to every project, ultimately, no single set of protocols can create zero-accident rates.
MYTH #2: IT’S TOO HARD TO IDENTIFY EVERY SAFETY ISSUE ON THE JOB SITE
You may have heard other construction managers and business owners complain about how construction is too dynamic and complicated to identify risks and prevent accidents altogether. This mentality is arguably more of an excuse; both the leading and happenstance causations of on-site injuries aren’t just well-known; they’re documented. With careful evaluation and external awareness, you can coordinate a safety plan that addresses all of these risks and easily add to them over time.
Coordination isn’t complicated; identify risks, be they standard or abstract, outline their causes, and provide viable alternatives that eliminate your employees’ danger. Addressing and communicating safety hazards within the industry can minimize the risk of an accident. With time, effort, and collaboration, you can achieve minimal accidents and save your company from both financial and legal repercussions.
MYTH #3: INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGY ISN’T A LONG-TERM SOLUTION, IT’S A QUICK FIX
Those who believe this myth also probably believe things such as social media and smartphones are just trends that won’t last much longer. While it is true that new technology may not necessarily fix every problem, it can be a long-term solution to some issues that have plagued the construction industry for years.
Unfortunately, it’s reversely true that technology can not only fail to fix a problem but also make it worse. Before you implement any new technology, predictive evaluation is vital. Is it something you need? Does it address a problem you currently have, or can it be used to deal with an issue you expect to have preemptively? Is it useful? Will it work well with the technology you already have? What do others say about it?
While there are many questions to answer, they must all be considered before adding new technology to your company. If you don’t, you may find that you’ve spent a lot of money on something that doesn’t work well with what you already have or doesn’t address the safety issue like you thought it would.
MYTH #4: HIGH OSHA SAFETY STATS TRANSLATE TO ACTUAL SAFETY
Just because a business has outstanding OSHA statistics does not mean its work environment is entirely accident-proof. OSHA statistics measure non-safety, meaning measurements are founded on the failure of a process involving injuries, fatalities, and the number of lost workdays resulting from accidents.
Concerning safety, OSHA approaches and records statistics based on the occurrence of mishaps or “near misses,” again measured by the amount of a company’s safety processes and policies that have failed. More of grading than a preventative system, these statistics do not explicitly determine the degree of safety on a job site per failure.
Just because a company statistically has a low accident rate, its procedures and policies are not necessarily safe. It just means any potential accidents haven’t happened yet. For example, if a workshop has multiple extension cords crisscrossing the floor that no one has tripped over, it doesn’t make it a safe environment. It just means that so far, no one has tripped. There’s no telling when that might change.
MYTH #5: LOWER SAFETY COSTS MEAN LOWER BIDS
Lowering the level of safety doesn’t reduce the amount of money a company spends on safety. In fact, in many cases, it’s the opposite. Construction firms dedicated to safety have lower overall costs because they’re not paying overbearing workers’ compensation fees or OSHA fines. This means they can offer a more competitive bid than a
company that has eliminated all its safety protocols. Doing so may save money in the short run, but it costs much more in the long term.
Besides their budget, these firms also often lose standing in the community. They gain a reputation for using unsafe practices and creating dangerous work environments. This leads to customers avoiding them, even if their prices are much lower. This applies to your subcontractors as well. They know who has a great reputation, those that don’t, and word travels fast in the construction industry. Having a good reputation is often more attractive than saving a few dollars, especially where safety is concerned.
MYTH #6: THE SAFETY DEPARTMENT IS RESPONSIBLE FOR SAFETY
Being safe isn’t something that you can make one person or one department in charge of. Doing so pushes all safety concerns off on someone else, and creating a safe work environment is something everyone needs to contribute to. Putting it off as someone else’s work gives employees an excuse for not practicing safe work habits. That, in turn, is likely to lead to an accident. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a safety department or supervisor. Still, it does mean they need to focus on teaching others how to be safe rather than taking on the responsibility of creating a safe work environment.
Safety is everyone’s responsibility and concern. Every employee needs to understand, practice, and review safe working habits. This includes everything from being aware of the environment around them to operate all machinery safely. Everyone should know how to identify and mitigate all common job-site risks and report to them when they find a risk they don’t know how to handle.
MYTH #7: SAFETY IS A SPECIFIC ACTION OR ACTIVITY
“Safety” isn’t some specific thing you do when you first get to work or before you leave for the day. It’s something you do all the time. Safety is a part of every action and process on the job, whether it’s sweeping, assembling materials, building a wall, or driving a forklift. Every task has steps that are safe and unsafe. It’s everyone doing all of these actions together that achieves safety.
When a team starts to think of safety as a separate action or as an entity that someone is responsible for, the job site becomes unsafe. People don’t see safety as their responsibility or see it as something they do once and then forget about. A safe work environment simply means everyone participates in safety protocols to the point that there are no accidents.
“Safety” isn’t an entity; it’s simply the state of everything going according to plan. For that to happen, everyone has to be concerned with safety with each action they take. The goal is to make safety on the job site second-nature. Employees should go through the correct safety steps naturally as a part of doing something. They shouldn’t need to stop and think about how to do an activity safely—they should automatically start following the correct safety procedures. Getting to this point takes training, practice, and reinforcement, but it can be done.
MYTH #8: YOU CAN CREATE A 100% SAFE ENVIRONMENT
To put it bluntly, complete safety is impossible. There will always be risks, and accidents can happen even when on the safest job site. You can never expect to eliminate all hazards or chances of an accident. Even those accident-free companies for hundreds of days may suddenly have an injury due to an oversight or an employee simply forgetting to follow all of the safety rules. But just because you can’t wholly create a safe work environment doesn’t mean you can’t make one that’s 99 percent safe. The lower your chances of an accident are, the safer your employees, clients, and guests will be. Never let the fact that you can’t be 100% safe get in the way of being as safe as you possibly can. Strive to become as safe as you possibly can, even though you know accidents will always find a way of happening.
MYTH #9: ALL YOU NEED IS A GOOD SAFETY PROGRAM
Having a good safety program is a necessity for keeping your construction crew safe. It’s also often necessary for you to qualify for your business insurance policy or meet specific certification requirements. However, just because you have a safety program doesn’t mean you’re safe. It’s like saying that having a fire extinguisher means you’ll never have a fire. A safety program is excellent, but it’s not going to solve everything by itself.
As discussed earlier, if you accomplish a majorly safe working environment, everyone on your team must understand how to be safe and implement these procedures daily. Everything has to be done safely at all times. All it takes is one person being reckless to transform your reasonably safe environment into one that is accident-prone.
MYTH #10: HAVING A SAFETY AUDIT OR INSPECTION CREATES SAFETY
Much like safety statistics, having someone audit your safety protocols will not entirely create or measure the safety of your worksite. Instead, it
indicates how often you have accidents or injuries, an indication of where and when your safety system hasn’t worked. These audits usually don’t reveal what should change to promote safety, and they certainly don’t create a hazard-proof job site.
To truly improve your safety, you need to look beyond the audit. You must utilize this information to determine why accidents occurred. What was the underlying cause of each incident? By identifying these reasons, you accurately create and implement data-based safety prevention techniques. Often, this means changing how an operation is performed or acknowledged by your team and further executing a new procedure that takes safety into account.
MYTH #11: YOU CAN IMPROVE SAFETY BY CREATING INCENTIVE PROGRAMS
The purpose of an incentive program is to motivate employees to work towards a company goal proactively. Unfortunately, while these programs often work in the short-term, they’re usually not sustainable in the long run. One of the reasons for this is that you always have to increase or change the incentive for it to continue to be effective. That becomes very difficult.
Another issue with incentive programs aimed at improving safety is that some employees may stop reporting accidents, injuries, and safety violations, so they don’t ruin their chances of receiving the incentive. The focus shifts from creating a safe environment, to getting the prize. That becomes the overall goal for most employees, so they will do whatever they feel they need to reach that goal. Becoming safer often becomes the second priority, which jeopardizes and reverses the incentive program’s initial intent.
MYTH #12: DISCIPLINING UNSAFE EMPLOYEES IMPROVES SAFETY
Similar to incentive programs, disciplinary actions do not innately improve safety. Correcting an employee through negative reinforcement strategies does not necessarily suggest their performance will later improve. Instead, it’s likely to lead to the employee feeling angry and will make them correlate safety measurements with getting into trouble. Instead of discipline, reconstruct the acknowledgment of unsafe behaviorisms into teaching opportunities. Mentor your entire team on safe protocols, rather than punishing an individual for doing it wrong. This will instill the desired behavior in the employee plus reinforce or introduce it to others.
Also, ascertain that you institute a series of safety tests and provide training materials for prospective employees and new hires. Outlining your safety expectations before onboarding new team members is a robust preventional strategy that can promote positive habits from the onset of work.
MYTH #13: SAFETY ASSOCIATIONS WANT TO SOLVE PROBLEMS
Many safety associations and organizations have become increasingly focused on handling accidents and providing resources for injured employees. Regarding a heightened number or severity of accidents, an investigation is normal, but unfortunately, this is the extent of what many safety associations do.
These associations don’t sit down and help you determine long-term safety solutions. Some may try to institute several protocols that get in the way of your safety programs. Working with these associations can be a headache at times. In the end, what matters is that you implement safety procedures that you know will work and that comply with all of the regulations you have to follow to operate as a construction company in your area.
SAFETY IS ALWAYS A TOP PRIORITY
While safety is quintessential to the operations, efficiency, and employee well-being in the construction sector, it’s not always a primary focus for the managers, supervisors, and business owners involved. With business mentalities dominating the field, budgeting and instituting the best practices for your project or company can slight the importance of employee safety. Beyond OSHA, a government department or agency focused strictly on safety is lacking, leaving it up to management, employees, and employers to creating a safe work environment. Many small business owners are subject to hearing such myths and taking them as truth. Without consideration, high accidents and injury rates might come as a surprise.
Remember, when it comes down to it, safety is merely performing actions and following protocols that ensure your daily work goes as it should. It’s not foolproof, but it substantially reduces the number of common accidents on the average construction site. By learning about these myths, you can make sure that your safety procedures take them all into account and are genuinely focused on safety.