Research Perspective: Safety culture and safety climate in construction

Over the past 20 years, researchers and practitioners have recognized that a strong safety culture and safety climate are key to reducing injuries, illnesses and fatalities on construction worksites. After reviewing the literature review and interviewing construction practitioners we concluded that to move forward on this topic we first needed to

  1. agree on what safety culture and safety climate mean and what the core indicators are of these constructs,

  2. develop reliable and valid measures to help identify and target areas needing improvement, and

  3. design, implement, and evaluate interventions to improve identified areas.

On June 11–12, 2013, CPWR-The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) and The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) convened a 1½ day workshop designed to begin addressing these issues. Seventy-two invited construction stakeholders were invited including: contractors, employer associations, labor organizations, researchers/academics, consultants, and insurance firms. Participants were assigned to 1 of 6 small work groups and trained group facilitators used a structured facilitator guide to maximize discussion. The sessions and key findings are reported below.

  • Session 1 Defining and Framing Safety Culture and Climate for the Construction Industry

  • Session 2 Leading indicators: Key factors that contribute to safety climate,

  • Session 3 Assessing safety climate

  • Session 4 Interventions to improve safety climate

  • Session 5 Next steps for bridging the gaps and moving forward

  • Definitions – Participants agreed on three primary definitions:

  • (Organizational) Safety Culture: Deeply held but often unspoken safety-related beliefs, attitudes, and values that interact with an organization's systems, practices, people, and leadership to establish norms about how things are done in the organization. Safety culture is a subset of, and clearly influenced by, organizational culture. Organizations often have multiple cultures or subcultures, and this may be particularly true in construction.

  • (Organizational) Safety Climate: The shared perceptions of safety policies and procedures by members of an organization at a given point in time, particularly regarding the adequacy of safety and consistency between actual conditions compared to espoused safety policies and procedures. Homogeneous subgroups tend to develop shared perceptions while betweengroup differences are not uncommon within an organization.

  • Project Safety Climate: Perceptions of occupational safety and health on a particular construction project at a given point in time. It is a product of the multiple safety climates from the different organizations involved in the project including the project owner, construction manager/general contractor, and subcontractors. Project safety climate may be heavily influenced by local conditions such as project delivery method, schedule and planning, and incentives.

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