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How Dangerous is a Weak Safety Culture?

November 19, 2014

safety_hatWhen I arrived at Texas A&M University in 2011, I quickly realized that Aggie football is a big deal. Then Johnny Manziel came to town and Aggie football became a very big deal. Johnny Football’s two short years here sparked record-setting alumni donations that led to the approval of a $450 Million renovation to our football stadium, Kyle Field, which will boast a seating capacity of 102,512 upon completion.

I park in the garage across the street from Kyle Field, so I see daily updates of the construction as I head to the office. However, on December 3, 2013 I arrived to find ambulances and fire trucks surrounding one end of the stadium. I later learned that a 28 year old construction worker had fallen to his death that morning. The man was operating a loader on the fourth story of a spiral walking ramp to catch falling debris from the demolition happening above. Unfortunately, a 3,340-lb chunk of concrete unexpectedly broke free and fell on the loader, causing it to tip over the ramp wall. OSHA investigated the incident and cited contractors $130,700 for safety violations. According to Area Director Casey Perkins, “These experienced contractors failed to provide employees with safe demolition procedures despite concerns from workers.”

OSHA reports that falls are the leading cause of death in construction, accounting for 294 out of 796 total industry fatalities in 2013 [Tweet This]. Fall fatalities happen when an individual employee exhibits unsafe behavior while performing the job or when management fosters a weak safety culture, but it cannot be overstated that these deaths are preventable. To avoid a fall incident, it is critical to take precautionary steps before the job is performed. OSHA’s fall prevention campaign encourages managers to:

  • Plan ahead by laying out your vision for how best to perform the job safely.
  • Provide the appropriate safety equipment because proactive safety efforts demonstrate credibility with employees.
  • Properly train employees to safely use the equipment, which establishes your role of safety coach in leading your crew.

As the work is performed, managers must then consistently enforce all safe work policies and coach employees with low SafetyDNATM to build habits that will counteract their safety blind spots. The primary goal here is to save lives by minimizing the potential for a fall to occur, but it also makes business sense to follow these suggestions because the medical, regulatory, and legal costs associated with fall fatalities are colossal. Furthermore, these tend to be high profile incidents that make the news, and no organization wants the bad publicity. Therefore, we implore construction managers to take these simple steps to improve the safety of their workers.

safety assessment

Craig White Craig White is a doctoral student in the industrial/organizational psychology program at Texas A&M University. His research domains include selection test development, training, and team processes and performance. He has been closely involved in applied safety and health research projects at the Michael E. DeBakey VAMC Health Services Research and Development CoE in Houston, TX.