In conversations with these experienced safety leaders, we discovered a consistent message: the critical significance of a robust safety culture.
Their testimonies speak to how managers and executives can support safer projects. Here are some of the key takeaways.
Frontline workers need support to speak up.
Successful communication on a job site relies on creating an environment where field personnel, including frontline workers and supervisors, feel empowered to voice their concerns or report hazards.
The safety representatives we spoke to echoed that point, adding that empowerment results from a culture of transparency and information-sharing. David Watts, an Environmental Health and Safety director for Skanska USA Building, noted that supervisors similarly shouldn’t avoid having difficult conversations about a safety hazard or concern.
Managing expectations is an executive responsibility.
Our safety leaders emphasized that effective communication on a job site means managing expectations. Safety issues often arise when expectations between crews, managers, and executives need to be aligned, Gavin Taylor, CSP, Director of Environmental, Health, and Safety at Lee Kennedy Co., told us.
All subcontractors should have the same understanding of the means and methods and the scope of work to be successful—and strong communication up and down the chain of command ensures this mutual understanding.
The need for empathy and understanding.
Nearly all of the safety professionals spoke about the need to take the time to listen and empathize with crews in the field. Some managers do that by developing rapport, personalizing interactions, and holding employee lunches.
Steve LaRussa, an Environmental Health and Safety Manager at Google, told us that his team once provided a crew with an anonymous questionnaire to gauge their feelings about working conditions following a series of first-aid incidents on a particular project.
Effective communication leads to strong relationships. Indeed, our safety managers recognized the importance of building and maintaining relationships with subcontractors in their networks. Samuel Perez, SMS, CHST, Site Safety Director at Torcon, said that construction work can be “thankless” and that “a little pat on the back goes a long way.”
The safety team at W.L French Excavating Corporation testified to the importance of personal relationships, noting that it is vital that crews feel they count on the safety teams to advocate for them.
Above all, the safety leaders said the personal relationships they foster on the job site help build trust, which leads to better safety outcomes.
Safety culture is influenced from the top.
Many of our safety leaders spoke about executives’ role in strengthening a project’s safety culture, adding that safety is as much a top-down process as any worker’s responsibility. Executives should take the time to reach out directly to subcontractors to demonstrate effective communication and collaboration in real-time. As one of our safety managers told us, gestures like those that “show we care—that the whole company cares and takes this seriously.”