10:50 am, Wednesday 14 November, 2012
Photo: SafetyCulture Library
A survey conducted during the Safety Culture Leadership Forum by the Master Builders Association in Canberra last month revealed that many construction bosses in Canberra believe the common approach to industry safety is to “tick and flick” paperwork (8 out of 10). Ninety four percent of the respondents agree that “the bottom line is just to get the job done.”
According to a Fairfax Media report, 125 mainly middle and senior managers were asked questions related to the safety culture on local construction sites during the forum. Workplace culture and safety consultant Dr Robert Long facilitated the survey.
Respondents included directors, managers, project managers, engineers, supervisors and foremen (94%), and construction workers (6%). They were given rapid-fire questions with only a few seconds to answer using a keypad. Fairfax Media further reported that this method is used to understand “gut feelings,” rather than give respondents time to regurgitate their company policy.
The survey showed that 9 out of 10 builders agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I take shortcuts when I can if it is safe.”
It also found that many of them perceived safety compliance as overly complex and burdensome. Most of the respondents did not believe that present regulations sufficiently prepared people for workplace safety.
According to Dr Long, hubris or “risk arrogance” is one of the most common cultural characteristics among industry personnel in building and construction.
“The idea that building and construction people perceive that they can manage anything indicates a lack of reflection, insight and understanding of risk uncertainty,” said Dr Long.
Half of the respondents said the key to safety was being careful but Dr Long said this response was naive as most people cannot tell the difference between “complacency” and being “careful.”
Eight in ten respondents believed that “safety processes are so complex when all you need is commonsense.” In addition, 73 percent agreed or strongly agreed that incidents tend to happen to careless people.
“This high percentage of people in building or construction who blame others, circumstance or themselves for events is fostered by simplistic understanding of risk … and totally misunderstands the nature of incident causation,” said Dr Long
There were contradictory responses including 77 percent agreeing or strongly agreeing that their organisation was prepared to deal with anything if it went wrong but only 49 percent agreeing their organisations are spending enough time in identifying possible work hazards or risks.
The survey also revealed that managers believe union’s approach to safety was unhelpful. Respondents believe union’s main strategy was to “bully” the workplace into health and safety.
A disregard for compliance was also seen with 59 percent of the respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing that “building and construction industry is more concerned about not being caught than being safe.”
Eighty nine percent reported they were “so busy on safety paperwork we can’t really assess and manage the risks on site.”
Master Builders Association deputy executive director Jerry Howard said the results of the survey were “shocking but not surprising.” Mr Howard said the survey results only show that current regulation was not working to improve safety culture. He also said a sense of complacency was present not just among workers but also right up through the building hierarchy.
ACT WorkSafe Commissioner Mark McCabe said the department needs to do more work now.
“Clearly we have to do more now with less staff at a time when the ACT is experiencing a construction boom,” said Mr McCabe.
“This latest survey raises serious concerns about the approach being taken across the industry,” he said.
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