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In a world profoundly affected by Covid-19 pandemic, the role of safety professionals has been raised to a higher level. Across all regions, construction sites are classed as essential business workplaces, and safety inspections or audits still need to be completed. This is to ensure Covid compliance to local government controls.
As a global Health and Safety (H&S) professional, I find that at the best of times leaders can be reluctant to conduct safety inspections or tours of construction sites. When I ask them, I can be met with comments like ‘I don’t have the time’ - uncomfortable pause - ‘Everything is ok, is it not’? Or ‘Why do we need to, has there been an accident’? It’s not that leaders don’t have the time; on balance they are certainly concerned about the project and about workers’ welfare. However, we need to develop a positive mindset and engage leaders, persuading them to find the time to conduct real meaningful site visits in a safe and positive manner during Covid.
Workers are a great source of information. Talking to them either individually or in small groups enables leaders to understand the issues and respond to ideas or areas for improvement. We don’t need complex technology with business intelligence that kicks out stats for dashboards. Instead, a workforce needs to be supported and listened to, without fear of reprisal or discrimination. It can be important at times for leaders to be reminded that they are directly responsible for the safety and success of the project.
I use a simple method called a ‘risk walk’. I try not to call it a site inspection or audit, as this can have a negative impact. Site audits/inspections can lead to questions from workers like ‘Did we pass?’ or ‘What did they find wrong’.
Risk walks focus on three areas: ‘risk to people’, ‘risk to plant and property’ and ‘risk to the environment’.
Risk to people: Do they have a safe place to work, suitable emergency procedures and provision for adequate welfare facilities?
Risk to plant and property: Has all plant been serviced correctly? Is there any legal compliance that requires inspection? Is the property that has just been built damaged in any way?
Risk to the environment: Has construction work created any environmental hazard, such as environmental release to air, ground or water?
Before the risk walk takes place, the leader is briefed on how long it will take (no more than one hour), any previous incidents, anything outstanding from previous audits or risk walks, and the area the risk walk will cover. To give the leader some guidance on how to start a conversation, I use safety-related topics such as emergency procedure. For example, they can ask the workers, ‘If the emergency alarm sounded what would you do’? Simple questions like this get the conversation going. You should also make sure the leader’s PPE is fitted correctly and keep the group conducting the risk walk to a maximum of three people including the safety manager.
Using ‘Stop’ ‘Talk’ ‘Understand’ ‘Respond’ for risk walks
‘Stop’: During the risk walk the leader will want to see progress on the project. On the route, identify working activities that the risk walk can stop to engage workers. Always make sure the supervisor or worker stops what they are doing and is safe. If any machinery is being used make sure it is switched off or in safe mode.
‘Talk’: Make basic introductions, explaining who the leader is and why you are doing the risk walk. The leader can then start with the basic questions, and once the rapport has been established the conversation can build.
‘Understand.’ At times, the worker might not be very clear about the issues, so the leader might not fully understand minor issues with potential to become major incidents. It is vital that the leader understands what’s involved.
I was interested to hear a CEO on a recent risk walk say, ‘It’s amazing that the workers are experiencing the same issues as I did as a young engineer’. Communication and relationships are just as important as getting the job done. It’s great to get leaders onside and provide them with the confidence that they can answer safety questions that are raised on site. Getting them to follow up on ideas from workers is also excellent and builds upon workers feeling valued.
‘Respond’: The leader might be able to answer questions raised by the worker during the risk walk. If not, they should say they don’t know but will get back to the worker with an answer as soon as they can. This is very important: the leader must then follow through and get an answer to the worker either in person or via the site supervisor.
Making workers feel part of a team and showing respect by responding to their questions helps build trust and loyalty. It’s equally important for the leader to thank the workers, and acknowledge that they are the people who make the project happen.
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Using tools like Gemba Walk (bringing the leader to the workplace) and behaviourally-based safety tools. Giving leaders confidence in safety and getting them to talk with the workforce reaps genuine rewards.
Preparing the leader for the risk walk is key, as is creating a structure for all leaders from the CEO to the CFO to attend a risk walk and build relationships. Open and honest communication, following the simple methods of ‘Stop’ ‘Talk’ ‘Understand’ and ‘Respond’ reaps rewards, building trust and loyalty across the workforce.