An organization's employees are its most important asset. The
employee's performance, behavior, and attitude impact the organization's success or
failure. Fundamentally, at the operations level, there are three key elements: the
product or service the organization produces, the systems it has with which to produce
them, and the employees it engages to "run" the systems to produce the output.
So, there are only two fundamental sources of risk, which may occur
either in the systems or with the people. Since systems, if properly designed, function
as intended, it is the people who have to be handled in such a way so as to function
efficiently and effectively, as well as to potentially perform at their very optimum
At the construction project level, the person responsible and the one
who manages things is the superintendent. At the task level, the foreman is in charge of
the crew and manages their performance. These folks, respectively, are effectively the
"managers" and, therefore, have positional power to plan, organize, lead, staff, direct,
and control the work. That means they have the authority and/or power to delegate and
assign tasks, praise or criticize, promote or demote, or hire or fire when dealing with
the people working for them on the project.
The safety practitioner does not plan, organize, lead, staff, direct,
and control the production of the work. That is the responsibility of others. The safety
practitioner has to ensure that the workers are working safely when performing the work
to which they are assigned. So, in discovering a physical issue (concern), they may ask
the workers to correct it. If they encounter an unsafe act or behavior, they may ask the
worker to change the way they go about performing the task. Safety management usually
does not have positional power.
Sources of Organizational Power
Businesses are run by people. To run it efficiently and
effectively, there is a need for specialization, structure, and a chain of command.
The people in the chain have the power to "run" things. There are different kinds of
power available to executives, managers, and supervisors, which enables them to
successfully "run" things. There are five basic types of organizational power (see
"Sources of Organizational Power"). People in management have the option of using
them singly or in combination, which results in varying degrees of
SOURCES OF ORGANIZATIONAL POWER
This exists when someone reporting to another person does what
he or she is asked to do by them because they believe that this person has the
authority to do so due to their position in the organization. This is a function
of a clearly established chain of command within the organizational structure.
This can also be referred to as positional power.
This exists when a superior in the organization has the
authority to give his or her subordinates something they would like or
appreciate receiving such as a raise or promotion. Supervisors know that many
employees are motivated by some form of recognition, praise, or reward, causing
them to exert greater effort, increase their output, or work longer hours when
performing their assigned tasks.
This exists when a person in the position of authority
threatens a subordinate with something that will be perceived as punishment if
they do not do what they are asked or expected to do. This could include taking
something that is valued away or giving something that is perceived in a
negative light by the employee. This could be used when there is some form of
emergency or the employee is chronically underperforming.
This exists when an employee respects or admires their
supervisor. Supervisors gain referent power by virtue of the fact that
subordinates have received some form of assistance from them that eased their
workload or resulted in a successful outcome. This could also occur if the
subordinate believes that the supervisor could be helpful to them in their job
or career at some future point in time. Superiors who treat employees fairly,
trust them, give them more responsibility, support them, give them
opportunities, etc., will create a climate where subordinates will go out of
their way to perform at their level best.
This exists when people respect, value, or follow those who
have or are perceived to have some form of expertise or specialization. This
could be a peer or anyone in the organization who has an expertise that would be
helpful to the other. This will place them in a position of respect, and their
opinion or assistance will be sought after.
Safety Management as Practiced
In almost all cases, safety practitioners do not have positional
power because they are not responsible for production, which is the responsibility
of the superintendent or foreman. The safety practitioner is responsible for worker
safety. In construction, production invariably is the key to the contractor's
contractual obligation. This places the importance of safety secondary to the
fundamental goal of the project. So, how do they go about carrying out their
responsibility and which one of these power sources do they utilize in doing so?
Traditionally, the safety practitioner engages in one of four basic ways of carrying
out their responsibility.
Traditionally, the safety practitioner visits the worksite on
some timed or random basis, looking for physical hazards to which the workforce
may be exposed. He or she may ask the involved worker(s) to correct this, or he
or she may speak with the superintendent or foreman and ask them to intervene
and resolve the issue. The other aspect of the inspection may involve looking
for at-risk behavior on the worker's part. When finding such an activity, they
may stop the person(s) and talk to them about what or how they are exposed and
what the potential consequences may be.
The conversations may vary depending on how they approach
this. They may threaten the worker with possible negative consequences or try to
explain to them the potential injury outcome, or they may try to point out that
should they get injured, it may possibly create a financial problem for their
families, etc. The ultimate goal of this exchange is to try to change the
workforce's behavior. They may then offer some information on the safety
standards or the content of the organization's safety program. The safety
practitioner may also inform the superintendent or foreman of such an event as
well. The worker may comply while the safety practitioner is present and revert
to the previous method after he or she leaves.
The other way the safety practitioner tries to implement
change is through training. The training can occur when the safety practitioner
engages individual workers, as discussed above, or may arrive at the need for
training from a review of site-inspection findings or loss-data analysis
This may identify common safety infractions, and the whole
workforce is exposed to a group or classroom-style training for the more common
infractions. This assumes that the worker does not know, or has forgotten, the
safety rules or standards and, therefore, ends up being exposed to some form of
hazard that may lead to an adverse outcome.
Unless an analysis is made that points to a knowledge
deficiency on the part of the workforce as the cause of the problem, training
may not be the solution to the problem. The safety practitioner would be more
strategic if they identify why the workers were doing what they were doing,
which was exposing them to potential injury; that will identify the true
underlying cause. This would then result in a more effective solution to the
In many of the smaller and less-sophisticated construction
organizations, the persons responsible for safety performance act as a cop. They
try to catch people doing something that is considered unsafe, and they "write
them up." Those are the organizations that utilize the three-strike rule. The
first offense results in a citation, the second infraction results in a number
of days off without pay, and the third violation may result in dismissal. The
safety practitioner may write up the offending worker, but it is the supervisor
who may send the worker home or fire them.
That approach, though seemingly effective, has been found to
be of limited value to the organization. Since there is usually more than one
job site and a lot of workers, the safety practitioner cannot see every worker
all the time, and so it's impossible to catch all safety infractions. Policing
also creates a climate that fosters the creation of responses that also have a
negative impact on the relationships and interaction of the people.
In all likelihood, the safety practitioner is also required to
report to management on the state of safety in general and possibly on specific
worksites. To do this, they probably submit reports verbally or in writing. They
investigate accidents and report on them. In all likelihood, they liaise with
the insurer or broker to arrive at an annual plan for improving the
organization's safety results going forward.
A thing to consider is that some of these terms are sometimes
used interchangeably when, in fact, there are subtle differences in their
meaning, their application, and the ultimate benefit to the workforce as well as
the organization. Each one of these methods provides the safety information in
different ways to the workforce and is, therefore, received by the employees
differently. In choosing one or more of these methods of providing safety
information, the safety practitioner impacts the ultimate outcome of the effort.
The chart below indicates how the safety practitioner interacts with the
workforce and could do so with others, thereby garnering significantly better
Ideal Safety Management Practice
So, in carrying out their responsibilities, safety practitioners
may utilize different approaches in dealing with the workforce, jobsite supervision,
and management. They may choose to function as a reporter and consultant to
management, as an inspector, reporter, and adviser to supervision, and as an
observer, trainer, coach, mentor, or counselor when interacting with the workforce
(see "A Possible Approach to Managing Safety Performance"). This is dependent on a
number of factors that are unique to each organization, its staff as well as its
partners, the makeup of the workforce, and, more importantly, the personality of the
A Possible Approach to Managing Safety Performance
Interfacing with the Workforce
How the safety practitioner interacts with the workforce after
observing their actions affects how the workforce responds to the input
provided. They may perceive this as negative (cop), neutral, or positive. The
purpose of observation is to determine if the workforce is performing its work
in a way that is consistent with safe work practices. Should the safety
practitioner determine that there are workers performing their work in an unsafe
manner, he or she needs to bring it to the worker's attention.
But in doing so, the safety practitioner must determine why
the worker is performing the work in a certain manner. The driver of the
behavior is important to identify before offering methods for doing that
particular task "safely." There could be a number of reasons for the behavior.
The worker has been tasked by the supervisor to perform the task in a fixed time
frame, which is not enough, and the worker has resorted to a shortcut that he or
she understands may not be strictly safe. Also, the workers' fear of failure to
meet the goal may jeopardize their job, or the worker was given the wrong
information, an inappropriate tool or equipment, the job is undermanned, or the
physical condition dictates how the task must be performed, to name a few. The
solution to this may be ineffective supervisory planning, poor risk assessment,
ineffective organizations, etc.
Another important factor to ferret out is how this particular
worker has performed similar tasks in the past. This may identify a lack of
knowledge, inexperience, insufficiency of appropriate information, inadequacy of
skill, physically incapable, bad habits, etc. This highlights a deficiency in
the worker to meet the task demand, or supervisors do not know this particular
employee's worker habits, which may be incompatible with that specific task.
Basically, supervision failed to match worker capability to task demand and so
made an inappropriate task assignment.
Supervisors must give instruction and provide direction to the
workforce. This ensures that the worker is capable of performing the work in
accordance with the task requirements. They try to develop the employee's
skills, see to it that the task is done efficiently, and ensure that the
employee is held accountable for the quality of the performance. This
establishes ties to motivate the employee, builds trust, garners loyalty,
fosters involvement, and ensures that the task is performed efficiently and
effectively, as well as safely. This points to the fact that safety generally
ought to be the responsibility of the supervisor, where positional power
resides. The ideal place for safety practitioners is in a consultant's role,
involved in providing risk assessment guidance at preconstruction, at the job
setup, and during construction.
The trainer tries to provide information and well as
instruction that relates to the need of the task or organizational objectives.
It generally entails providing data but may involve some discussion for
clarification. The attendee's learning depends on the trainer's training
abilities. Training is often sporadic and may not have an immediate link to task
activities. If it is provided to a large group, there is often the risk of it
being generic and aimed at the average of the group.
The primary purpose of training is to provide information to
employees who have gaps in their safety knowledge, are not utilizing the
information instinctively, or may have somehow forgotten it. The advantage of
such training is that it makes employees more effective in performing their work
due to the fact that risk is minimized. But, the important consideration is that
these are the states in effect and not that the worker has consciously decided
to ignore safety considerations due to production goal-attainment issues.
For training to be efficient, it must fill gaps in the
employee's knowledge. For the training to be effective, it has to be presented
in such a way that employees understand it and utilize it in their daily work
activities. The training should be such that it develops the employee's
long-term career goal, which will promote greater job satisfaction. A more
satisfied employee is likely to stay longer, be more productive, and care about
the organization's well-being.
A coach helps develop specific skills of an employee. Coaching
is and should be impartial when assisting in the improvement of work behavior.
The coach tries to direct a person toward the preferred end-result. The person's
endeavor is then assessed by the coach, who then provides advice on what is
working and what is not, as well as giving additional guidance for improvement
of what is not working and perfecting what is.
One of the more productive ways to improve an employee's
performance is coaching. This could be an effective part of the day-to-day
interaction between a technical expert and the employee who wants to do a good
job and be successful at it. One of the ways coaching is effective is in the way
feedback is given. Constructive feedback must be given in such a way that the
employee perceives that it is meant to not only improve their performance but to
ensure their success. Positive feedback lets the employee know when they are
effective contributors. By providing positive feedback, the safety practitioner
lets the employee know the actions he or she would like to reinforce so that
they will readily repeat them.
The mentoring process involves giving and receiving
information and providing direction as well as evaluating options. Effective
mentoring involves a willingness of the mentor to share his or her experience
and knowledge with the employee being mentored and should be based on that
person's perceived challenges and needs. Good mentoring develops a strong and
potentially lasting relationship between both parties. The mentor can act as a
sounding board for the person being mentored so as to understand concerns and
help with clarification, as well as provide options in overcoming barriers. The
mentor has a deep personal interest, is personally involved, and is a friend who
cares about the person being mentored. The mentor focuses on the employee's
long-term growth, development, and success.
The benefits of mentoring are well-known. It gives
less-experienced employees valuable feedback, insight, and support while passing
down values, wisdom, and institutional knowledge. Organizations that are engaged
and support mentoring programs, as well as the participating employees, benefit
from improved performance, across the board engagement, and overall success. In
general, employees want to feel that they are valued by the organization they
work for and that their success is as important to the organization as to
The counseling process is about providing a sounding board for
an employee, giving them a safe place to talk about issues that may trouble or
challenge them, and allowing counselors to help them find their own workable
solutions to problems or to possibly develop better ways to manage issues or
concerns. It is not so much about giving advice but about providing a
nonjudgmental, empathic means to allow an employee to find a way forward that
best meets their needs.
Each of the five proposed methods of interacting with the
workforce results in a different working relationship that the safety practitioner
is able to create. Which one of these roles the safety practitioner chooses to use
or in what combination will have an effect on the results they achieve in their
ability to effectively manage the safety of the worksite. The interpersonal skills
of the safety practitioner will determine the effectiveness of the intervention as
well as its influence on the individual worker. The safety practitioner's influence
is proportionate to the perceived value they can bring to the
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