Safety Culture and Construction Companies
Category : Company Case Studies
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CHAPTER I: INTRODUCTION
Organizational efficacy is an important aspect of any working environment. This will not only ensure that all employees are doing their responsibilities, but this will also enable organizations to achieve continuous progress. However, while this is beneficial, it is also important that employees give their workforce due value, specifically in terms of their safety. This then gave rise to the application of the safety culture concept. Culture pertains to skills, habits or concepts recognized or practiced by a certain group of people. Due to the danger involved in installing nuclear power, the British Health and Safety Executive then added the term safety to promote the application of safety culture in both dangerous and general work sites. Safety culture then refers to the attitudes, behavioral patterns, values and competencies of an individual or group, which determines their commitment to safety and health programs (Zack 1999).
The application of safety culture in an organization is significant as this will prevent incidents of major illness or injuries. The effective implementation of this concept however relies on two major factors. One is the management systems and programs that will support the safety framework and the other is the perception of the workers’ regarding the importance of safety in the workplace. Considering the significant role of safety culture in an organization, both factors must then share a common ground towards the application of this concept. This study was then conducted in order to identify the different factors that affect development and maintenance of safety culture. In addition, the different barriers that hinder the effective development and maintenance of safety culture were also determined. For this study, small-scale construction companies had been considered.
Statement of the Problem
Employees working on construction projects are very vulnerable to accidents and danger. In some cases, the improper use of an equipment or lack of protective working gear can lead to fatality. Among employees, this could cause a major effect on their morale and productivity. It is fortunate however, that while accidents at work are unexpected, safety measures can be implemented to prevent them. It is then necessary to develop a safety culture that will be supported fully by both the management and the employees. In line with this, the researcher then attempted to answer the following research questions:
1. What are the factors that can affect the development and maintenance of a safety culture?
2. What are the barriers that hinder the development and maintenance of safety culture within small-scale construction companies?
Objectives of the Study
This research aimed to:
1. Determine the factors that affect the development and maintenance of safety culture in small-scale construction companies
2. Identify the perceptions of the managers and employees on safety culture within their work environment
3. Emphasize the significance of observing safety culture in small-scale construction companies
Rationale of the Study
Although a number of literatures have already discussed the concept of safety culture and its role in the organizational setting, there had been limited resources focusing on the concept’s application in construction companies. Considering the level of danger involved in such work environment, it is essential that several studies stress the importance of safety culture in the construction business. Aside from stressing the value of safety culture, it is also essential that the factors and barriers that affect its development and maintenance in various construction companies are identified. Through this, both employers and workers will understand how to contribute toward safety culture’s successful application. Investigating on the status of safety culture application in small-scale construction companies can also contribute on enhancing the quality of existing safety measures in these work sites. This study is then conducted to benefit not only the employers and workers of construction companies but businesses in general as well.
Scope and Limitation
The research was focused on the identification of various factors and barriers that affect the development of maintenance of safety culture. The study however, did not investigate on the effects of the identified factors (e.g. organizational performance). To limit the research scope, managers and employees of selected small-scale construction companies in Hong Kong are considered.
CHAPTER II: LITERATURE REVIEW
The implementation of safety culture in the organizational setting had been recognized as essential. Generally, this protects the employers and the workers from untoward incidents such as accidents or fatalities from occurring in the workplace. This literature review then focuses on the definition of safety culture as well as its requirements and importance. Sources describing the application of this concept in construction companies are also discussed.
The concept of safety culture and its application to the workplace has been stressed after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear event. After this world-renowned disaster, the implementation of safety culture had been connected to issues of transportation and public safety (Clarke & Cooper 2004). The concept of safety culture had then been explained through numerous definitions from various literatures. Uttal (1983) has defined it as the shared set of values and beliefs, which cooperate with organizational structure and control system in order to generate desired behavioral norms. Pidgeon (1991) on the other hand, considers it as a constructed shared system of meanings wherein people understand the dangers of their environment. Furthermore, it is also described as the set of beliefs, norms, attitudes, roles and social and technical process which seek to decrease the possibility of exposing employees, managers, customers and the general public to hazardous conditions (Turner et al., 1989). All of these given definitions imply that safety culture is a social phenomenon wherein its definition lies on different perceptions being shared within the group context. This definition has been supported by a number of other sources (Cooper & Phillips 1994; Cox & Cox 1991).
There are two broad and divergent perspectives regarding safety culture introduced by different scholars. These are the interpretive and the functionalist approach (Waring 1996). The interpretive perspective claims that safety culture is a product of the whole organization and not just the management, implying that strategy supports the development of safety culture (Cox & Cox 1996; Reason 1997). It also presupposes that safety culture cannot be trained into people because change, which is needed to successfully implement safety culture, cannot be engineered quickly (Waring 1996). This view then suggests that safety culture can neither be incorporated simply in an organization nor easily developed, changed or manipulated (Turner et al 1989).
On the contrary, the functionalist approach suggests that safety culture is subject to management control as it is a manifestation of an organizational strategy (Clarke & Cooper 2004). The functionalist view also implies that safety culture can be manipulated because it is mainly goal-directed behaviour, making it adaptable to social engineering through the acquisition of the necessary features to launch it successfully (Cooper & Phillips 1994; Reason 1997). Understanding these two perspectives emphasizes the significance of safety culture to the organization as a whole, not just in terms of making the organization safe, but how safety culture affects the different aspects of the organization and its employees.
Requirements and Significance of Safety Culture
A number of factors can influence its development and application. Hopfl (1994) for instance, noted that discrepancies which can lead to a dysfunctional safety culture can emerge from management attempts to impose a certain corporate culture on the whole organization. He further asserted that although there are methods to fortify the observable artifacts of safety culture (i.e., manuals, systems and trainings) that ensure standard behaviour, overemphasis can lead to greater stress and suspicion of motives among the employees. This claim has been supported by Reason (1997). He stated that social engineering can only be employed in so far as to identify the elements, which govern safety culture. This however, is insufficient in achieving a durable safety culture. These two arguments emphasize the existence of barriers, which can affect the effective implementation of safety culture needed in organizations, especially those involved in high-risk work sites.
Applying safety culture in the organization is also a challenging task due to the number of requirements it demands. According to Geller (1994), the application of safety culture in the workplace should be supported by a strong organizational belief; with this, the ownership, behavior and commitment of the organization on the safety processes will increase. In implementing safety culture in the work setting, it is also important that the processes involved in the concept are stressed so as to achieve successful outcomes. As the implementation of safety culture is a part of organizational change, it is then required that the management and employees receive sufficient training or coaching as to how this should be applied. Moreover, the outcomes brought about by safety culture must be constantly monitored; this will not only ensure strict compliance of the safety measure being implemented but it will also foster effective change adaptation among employees.
Reason (2000) stated that the utilization of information system is an important aspect of safety culture. As the system collects, disseminates and analyzes work incidents regularly, the efficacy of applying safety culture in the organization is optimized. It is also essential that an informed culture supports the safety framework of the organization. This can be done by establishing four subcultures (Reason 2000). Creating a reporting culture is one of these important subcultures. In this case, it is important that the employees follow a standard protocol in reporting near misses or accidents in the workplace. The reporting culture must then be supported by a just culture; with this, employees will trust the management to effectively handle their reports. Furthermore, the workers will be motivated to contribute to the safety culture of the company and provide essential safety-related information.
The safety culture of an organization must also be characterized by flexibility. Specifically, the level of flexibility for safety culture should allow for reconfiguration to address certain types of danger or incidents. This then will aloe the company members to consult or appoint certain matters to people who can directly resolve the problem; this then can prevent the incident from getting worse or happening again. Lastly, a learning culture must also be integrated in an organization’s safety culture. Through this sub-culture, the organizational members will be willing to draw appropriate conclusions from its safety information system. In addition, major changes necessary to enhance the organizations’ safety culture can be done through constant learning (Reason 2000).
Though there are a number of requirements necessary to implement safety culture in an organization, such concept has been considered essential in most industries due to its significant benefits. Accidents and errors naturally occur in a workplace and should be expected. By means of implementing safety culture, management and employees can reduce the errors by identifying and understanding their precursors. The introduction of safety culture has resulted to various causation models that improve the level of safety in an organization. Reason (1997) for example has proposed a model emphasizing the importance of adequate human, organizational and technical defenses in safety culture. This model has been recognized especially among individuals analyzing medical-related errors.
Aside from promoting better understanding of the precursors of accidents and errors, the implementation of safety culture is also helpful in creating high-reliability organizations. In this type of organization, management and employees are helpful and supportive of each other. Moreover, an environment characterized by harmonious, open and honest relations is established. Organizations with high levels of reliability have strong credibility, creativity and determination. According to Gaba (2000b), people working and managing complicated systems are often less sensitive in sensing or anticipating problems; however, the inclusion of proper management and safety culture in work sites can make significant differences on how organizations can handle unexpected hazards.
Safety Culture and Construction Companies
Compared to desk work, construction jobs are obviously more dangerous. However, some statistical reports indicate the seriousness of this characteristic. Great building projects such as the Brooklyn Bride, the World Trade Center and Hoover Dam resulted to 26, 60 and 96 deaths respectively. The incidence of illness and injuries in the construction business since the early 1970s has been more than the national rates for other workers by a significant margin. From 1980 to 1995, the average rate of fatalities in the construction industry was at 15.2 for every 100,000 workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics on the other hand, reported that no other industry had more number of deaths than those in the construction in the 2003 report (Root 2005). Aside from affecting the morale of the staff, fatalities in the construction business can also affect profits. Considerable medical and indirect costs will be incurred from these incidents. This then emphasizes the cost-effectiveness of employing safety culture in the organization.
According to Root (2005), these outcomes due to lack of safety culture clearly implies the importance of this concept in construction companies. It is then imperative for construction companies to design and implement their own safety program. It has been indicated that the safety program for construction companies should start from the owner who will then employ safer contractors. This can be done by assessing the applicants’ records of illnesses or injury and well as their attitudes toward safety practices. The owner must then see to it that the contractors strictly comply with the company’s safety program. It is also essential that proper training and regular on-site monitoring are conducted to ensure safety. Daily meetings or report procedures must also be included in the program.
CHAPTER III: METHODS
The descriptive method of research was used for this study. Creswell (1994) noted that the descriptive method of research is to gather information about the present existing condition. The emphasis is on describing rather than on judging or interpreting. The aim of descriptive research is to verify formulated hypotheses that refer to the present situation in order to elucidate it. The descriptive approach is quick and practical in terms of the financial aspect. Moreover, this method allows a flexible approach, thus, when important new issues and questions arise during the duration of the study, further investigation may be conducted. The purpose of employing this research method was to identify the factors and barriers that affect the development and maintenance of safety culture within small-scale construction companies during the research process. Moreover, the descriptive method is also used for researches that aim to identify and explore the cause or causes of a certain situation. The researcher opted to use this research method considering the objective to obtain first hand data from the respondents.
The data for this study was based on both primary and secondary sources. Primary information was gathered through the survey questionnaire distributed to the selected respondents. Secondary sources on the other hand were based from printed references; these had been used mainly to support the data analysis. In terms of approach, the quantitative and qualitative approach was used for this research.
A total of 60 respondents made up the sample of this research. Simple random sampling was done for the selection. This sampling method is conducted where each member of a population has an equal opportunity to become part of the sample. As all members of the population have an equal chance of becoming a research participant, this is said to be the most efficient sampling procedure. In order to conduct this sampling strategy, the researcher would have to define the population first, list down all the members of the population and then select members to make the sample. For this procedure, the lottery sampling or the fish bowl technique was employed. This method involves the selection of the sample at random from the sampling frame through the use of random number tables (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill 2003). Numbers were assigned for each employee in the master list. These numbers were written on pieces of paper and drawn from a box; the process was repeated until the sample size was reached.
The participants were gathered from 4 small-scale construction companies in Hong Kong. The researcher chose to focus on small-scale construction companies to limit the size of the population, making sample selection less complicated. Two types of respondents had been chosen for the research process. These include the companies’ managers and employees. For every company, 5 managers and 10 construction employees were selected, totaling to 20 managers and 40 employees. While there are no age or position required for the participants, it is essential that the participants are regular employees of the company. Moreover, the managers and employees should have been employed in their respective companies for at least one year. These selection criteria had been used to ensure that the participants have enough information and experience in line with the companies’ safety culture.
The survey questionnaire was used as the main data-gathering instrument for this study. The questionnaire was divided into two sections: a profile and the survey proper. The profile contains socio-demographic characteristics of the respondents such as age, gender, civil status, the number of years they had served the company as well as their assigned job position. The survey proper explored the perceptions of employees on safety culture, the factors and the possible barriers that can affect the development and maintenance of safety culture. The questions were structure using the Likert format. In this survey type, four choices are provided for every question or statement. The choices represent the degree of agreement each respondent has on the given question. The scale below was used to interpret the total responses of all the respondents for every survey question by computing the weighted mean:
3.01 – 4.00 Strongly Agree
2.01 – 3.00 Agree
1.01 – 2.00 Disagree
0.00 – 1.00 Strongly Disagree
The Likert survey was the selected questionnaire type as this enabled the respondents to answer the survey easily. In addition, this research instrument allowed the research to carry out the quantitative approach effectively with the use of statistics for data interpretation.
After gathering all the completed questionnaires from the respondents, total responses for each item were obtained and tabulated. In order to use the Likert-scale for interpretation, weighted mean to represent each question was computed. Weighted mean is the average wherein every quantity to be averages has a corresponding weight. These weights represent the significance of each quantity to the average. To compute for the weighted mean, each value must be multiplied by its weight. Products should then be added to obtain the total value. The total weight should also be computed by adding all the weights. The Total value is then divided by the total weight. Statistically, the weighted mean is calculated using the following formula:
CHAPTER IV: RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
This study was conducted in order to investigate the barriers and factors that affect the development and maintenance of safety culture in small-scale construction companies. In this research, four small-scale construction companies in Hong Kong had been selected for the participant selection. Managers (20) and construction employees (40) had bee randomly selected for the data-gathering. A survey questionnaire structured in Likert format was distributed to the selected respondents. The questionnaire was divided into two main parts: the profile of the respondents and the survey proper. The responses of the participants were then totaled for the weighted mean computation. Results were then interpreted using the Likert scale.
For the profile of the respondents, the questionnaire asked for the participants’ age, gender, civil status, duration of service in the company and their current job position. Below are the graphs summarizing the gathered values for each profile category. Note that in the job position of the respondents, two graphs were presented to show the positions of the managers and the construction employees.
In this section, the results of the survey are discussed in relation to the objectives of the study. Specifically, barriers and factors that affect the development and maintenance of safety culture in the construction companies were derived from the survey findings. Some literatures were used to support points raised.
Barriers Affecting Safety Culture
Based from the survey results, one of the barriers affecting the safety culture of the selected small-scale construction companies was the compliance of the employees with the safety measure being implemented. The computed weighted mean for this survey item indicates that both managers and the employees disagree that the employees strictly comply with their respective companies’ safety work procedures. The absence of employee support and compliance can significantly decrease the success of the companies’ safety programs. According to Erickson (2006), programs for safety actually have essential elements. These include safety regulation and compliance. While the regulation element pertains to the actual processes that will promote safety in the workplace, compliance refers to the attitude of the employees towards the safety programs. As these elements represent the organizations philosophy and culture towards safety, the absence of either element can hinder safety program success. Thus, if the employees and management of the surveyed small-scale construction companies unanimously believe that compliance is lacking in their work environment, this finding is considered a significant barrier to the success of their safety culture.
Erickson (2006) further noted that the compliance or attitude of the employees toward safety culture is mainly influenced by their perception of safety in the workplace. Cowie (2005) pointed out that the compliance of the employees for safety is less when the full support of the company is not provided; however, the management’s desire to partake in the company’s safety culture can significantly increase compliance. This point stresses the direct effect of management support to employee compliance for safety programs.
Another barrier identified in the survey results is the lack of value both companies and employees give to safety culture. Although the weighted mean computation showed that managers agree that safety in the workplace should be prioritized, it should be noted that half of the respondents do not consider this concept as a top priority. The weighted mean computed for the employees’ response on the other hand showed that generally, safety is not an important priority at work. These findings clearly indicate that small-scale construction companies have other important matters to prioritize over the observance of safety in the workplace. Cowie (2005) stated that this could be due to the culture observed in the organization. For instance, if productivity is prioritized over safety, employees naturally focus themselves on accomplishing their work tasks. When the culture is too concentrated on productivity, workers tend to give less attention to safety matters.
In one research done by Chow and Leung (2002), the researchers noted that one of the reasons for accidents in Hong Kong construction companies is the people themselves. Specifically, employers are usually profit-oriented whereas the workers are focused on scheduled progress, costs and quality. The lack of priority for safety is further worsened by the employees’ overconfidence toward their jobs. Based on the researchers’ observations, accidents in construction companies occur as worker tend to take work short-cuts rather that follow standard working procedures. Protective equipment given to them is not used most of the time either; workers believe that these safety gears are inconvenient and affect their work efficiency. In general, the consciousness of the managers and workers on work safety is relatively low, though the local government is doing its best to address this issue.
Finally, the re-training aspect is also considered a significant barrier for the construction companies, particularly in the maintenance of safety culture. Through both parties indicated that new safety protocols should be integrated continuously in the workplace, re-training old employees does not seem to be included in the companies’ safety practices. Based on the survey findings, the managers and employees believe that training is an important aspect of integrating safety in the workplace. However, re-training is also necessary, especially in ensuring that previous employees are still observing safety work practices. As stressed by Erickson (2006), construction projects usually require new machineries or construction processes; without re-training, old workers may not be aware as to how to do these new tasks safely. When the workers and managers are not continuously updated with the new construction procedures, maintaining safety culture cannot be achieved.
Factors Affecting Safety Culture
The survey results indicated a number of important factors that must be considered in developing and maintaining safety culture in construction companies. One of which is the establishment of effective management-employee relations. As explained in the barriers affecting safety culture, these two parties have a direct impact on the success of the developed safety programs of the company. Without the full support of the company management and the compliance of the employees, the benefits of the safety program will not be achieved. Thus, this is considered an important factor for the effective development and maintenance of safety culture in the company. This has been emphasized as well in the survey results as both managers and employees believe that safety culture is not solely a management responsibility. It has also been discussed in the previous section that the consciousness and commitment of the organizational members to work safety is also an essential factor for safety culture success. If the employees will not be informed of the safety practices in the work site, and if management will not employ monitoring procedures to ensure commitment to safety, developing and maintaining a safe workplace will not be achieved.
In order to support the safety awareness and commitment of the company members towards safety, the training factor must be present. While the respondents strongly agree that initial training regarding safety work measures are provided in their respective workplaces, updating these safety skills is also necessary. Considering that new machineries, technology and processes are utilized in some construction projects, even trained workers must be re-trained so as to make them aware on how to safely use these new tools. Finally, leadership or effective management is an important factor for developing and maintaining safety culture. Considering that this concept is a part or organizational culture development, a strong sense of leadership in all company levels must be observed. Kotter (1990) noted that leadership in an organization is necessary in order to establish direction, align people towards the goals of the company, motivate employees, organize activities and procedures and control issues. Successful development and maintenance of safety culture can then be achieved through the effective leadership of construction company management.
CHAPTER V: CONCLUSION
Summary and Conclusion
This study was conducted in order to identify the factors and barriers that affect the development and maintenance of safety culture in small-scale construction companies. In order to achieve this research objective, a total of 60 respondents were selected from 4 small-scale construction companies in Hong Kong through random sampling. A survey questionnaire structured in Likert format was used for data gathering. The survey results were then totaled for the weighted mean computation. Using the Likert scale, the computed values were interpreted. Literatures were used to support the analysis.
Based from the gathered findings, three major barriers appear to hinder the effective development and maintenance of safety culture in the selected companies. These include poor compliance with developed safety measures, lack of safety consciousness or priority and insufficient training procedures. The findings also indicated four main factors that affect safety culture development and maintenance. These are the level of coordination between the management and the employees, awareness and commitment to safety, training and leadership. In conclusion, while the companies recognized the significance of developing a safety culture in the workplace, the implementation of safety programs will not be successful if the cited barriers and factors are not considered. In general, it is necessary for both managers and construction employees to take a more proactive approach in developing and maintaining safety culture.
The researcher recommends the following:
- Safety programs in the construction industry should include both training and re-training of managers and employees. Moreover, strict monitoring procedures should be enforced by the management to increase the level of compliance.
- Safety in the workplace can also be promoted through the provision of rewards. Applying proper motivation tactics to the employees can also contribute to better compliance to safety work procedures.
- Future similar researches should consider using different methodologies in investigating other aspect of safety culture in the construction companies. The use of other types of respondents or business industry can also contribute to the generation of more updated findings related to this topic.
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