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A new approach to safety management

As every civil engineer knows, accidents are far from being mere statistics. They are traumatic and expensive realities that can strike at any time. And construction has a worse safety record than any other industry. According to the Health & Safety Executive, the fatal injury rate for construction workers during 1999/2000 is expected to be 4.5 per 100,000, 18% higher than 1998/9.

The nature of the industry means that accident levels are inevitably high, but many injuries and fatalities are - distressingly - caused by comparatively trivial factors. For example, recent fatal accidents have been caused by failing to use safety harnesses during high rise work, or by badly secured ladders and other support structures. Each one of these accidents might very easily have been avoided. Each is the result of unsafe behaviour.

One of the most successful ways of maximising safety in any industry is through the discipline of ''behaviour management', which means understanding the relationship between an employee's behaviour and the results of that behaviour.

The essence of behaviour management is analysing all employee behaviour which has safety implications and then taking steps to maximise safety. The logic behind this thinking is that the difference between a 'safe' action and an 'unsafe' one is frequently very small. For example, motivating employees to walk rather than run down a potentially hazardous iron staircase may have major implications for safety.

To achieve this, employees need positive rewards for complying with safe behaviour. The nature of these rewards will vary, but may will include such benefits as applause within a team framework and singling out an employee for particular praise as well as financial and material benefits.

It is the job of the safety management consultant to identify safe behaviour and to set up a programme which encourages employees to adopt it.

Michael Douglas is managing partner with change management consultancy The Quo Group.

Key points

Analysing people's behaviour when it has safety implications can help highlight what is safe and unsafe.

Reward safe behaviour with praise Walk, don't run

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