Although the number of workplace fatalities every year in the U.S. would clearly mark construction worksites as high-hazard environments, little research has been done on safety culture and safety climate in this sector.
That was what Dr. Linda M. Goldenhar and her team at CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training discovered a few years ago when they reviewed the literature on safety culture (i.e. the set of espoused beliefs, attitudes and values about safety in the workplace) and safety climate (i.e. employee perceptions about the extent to which espoused beliefs are practised).
In construction, safety culture is made complicated by the fact that “multiple safety climates come together on a jobsite, and each is influenced by local conditions,” said Goldenhar, research director at CPWR, a world leader in construction safety and health research and the national construction centre for NIOSH. As such, leading indicators of safety climate, as well as interventions to change it, might be more effective when developed for individual worksites, added Goldenhar in her keynote remarks before 400 clinicians and practitioners at the 9th International Scientific Conference on the Prevention of Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (PREMUS).
Goldenhar listed eight leading indicators identified by construction industry stakeholders. In construction, worksites with a strong safety climate are those that:
- demonstrate management commitment;
- align and integrate safety as a value;
- ensure accountability at all levels;
- improve supervisory leadership;
- empower and involve employees;
- improve communication;
- train at all levels; and
- encourage owner/client involvement.
In a recent study, Goldenhar found that popular stretch and flex programs conducted on many construction sites may actually be addressing some of these safety climate indicators. “I wondered why it is that contractors are still spending resources implementing jobsite stretch and flex programs to reduce MSDs despite the research evidence showing they don't work,” she said.
To answer her question, Goldenhar conducted a mixed-methods study with jobsite safety directors, managers and supervisors. The findings revealed many benefits of these programs beyond improved MSD outcomes. Participants spoke of increased communication, familiarity and camaraderie between supervisors and workers, opportunities to assess workers’ physical and mental status and assign work accordingly, and team discussions about the tasks ahead and their hazards.
That is, they were referring to activities that directly address one or more of the eight leading indicators of a strong jobsite safety climate.