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The Value of Safety Perception Surveys in the Construction Industry

Safety perception surveys are arguably one of the most effective performance measurement tools for gleaning insightful information about the current state of your safety and health procedures. But why are they so effective? Considering that these surveys are completed by your employees, they have unrestricted access to your project sites and the highest probability of exposure to any work-related hazards that haven’t been contained or controlled. This renders their feedback crucial for contractors that want to cut down on costly work-related injuries, workers’ compensation claims, and project delays.

These surveys have the potential to help contractors identify and eliminate hazards that aren’t always revealed through classic methods (i.e., inspections, audits, etc.). In this article, an Orlando construction lawyer will discuss why contractors should utilize safety perception surveys to supplement their existing hazard assessment procedures. If your company is struggling with maintaining injury-free project sites, consult the Orlando construction lawyers at Cotney Construction Law to learn more about how you can cut down on work-related injuries.

Adding Safety Perception Surveys to Your Assessment Process

In today’s construction industry, incident statistics and safety system audits are considered the standards for assessing a company’s safety performance. While these two methods can provide some illuminating insights into the how and why of work-related injuries, neither process is as sufficient as a standalone process.

Let’s use incident statistics as an example. Incident statistics are effective for describing past safety issues, but they are an unreliable predictor of future safety performance. As building processes and technology advance, historical data may become outdated and irrelevant, which renders it unusable for informing contractors about the potential for future hazards. Generally, this type of assessment is utilized to evaluate a company and determine whether or not they are fit to continue operating. In other words, a history of accidents isn’t likely to inspire other owners to seek a contractor’s help.

Related: 6 Ways to Create a Culture of Safety on Jobsites

Now, let’s discuss safety system audits. This type of assessment is limited by a scant number of performance indicators. Additionally, audit protocols are somewhat limited and fail to identify many of the true causes of work-related safety issues. The indicators included in these types of audits don’t go far enough. By adding safety perception surveys to your repertoire, you can learn about other important factors, including:

  • Management Credibility
  • Employee Satisfaction
  • Autonomy
  • Work-Life Balance

Believe it or not, these types of factors can play a tremendous role in project site safety. Workers that don’t respect management will be less attentive to their instructions. Unsatisfied workers can become apathetic and error-prone. Similarly, a worker that feels as if they have no autonomy may lose confidence in their own abilities and make mistakes on the project site. Lastly, a lack of work-life balance can create a mentally or physically fatigued worker who is in no condition to provide high-level workmanship. 

The Prevalence of Work-Related Fatalities Proves the Need for Better Assessments

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of fatalities in the construction industry has been on an upward trend since 2015. In 2015, 985 fatalities were recorded. In 2018, despite advancements in construction-related safety technology, 1,038 were recorded. This roughly five-percent increase in fatalities over a three-year period should be concerning for anyone who works in the construction industry. It’s also worth noting that there was an average of three injuries per one hundred workers in 2018. Considering the average number of workers per enterprise hovers around fifty, most contractors will come face-to-face with a work-related injury at some point, possibly sooner than they anticipate. 

Related: The Fatal Four: Preventing Worker Fatalities

Our Orlando construction attorneys have witnessed firsthand how these outdated safety audit methods can hurt contractors. Simply put, they have been relied on for far too long. Safety perception surveys don’t have to be your sole form of safety assessment, but they should be combined with your existing methods to safeguard your company against preventable injuries.

The Benefits of Safety Perception Surveys

The benefits of safety perceptions surveys help set them apart from other safety assessment procedures. Not only do safety perception surveys consider the factors directly responsible for injuries, they also weigh the underlying causes, many of which can’t be expressed in numbers. The main benefits of safety perception surveys include:

  1. Assesses Human Factors and Culture
  2. Encourages Anonymous, Honest Opinions
  3. Reveals Employee Perceptions
  4. Quantifies Employee Responses More Precisely
  5. Identifies Perceptions Gaps
  6. Highlights Discernible Opportunities for Improvement
  7. Provides Insightful Information About Employee Groups
  8. Communicates the Harsh Reality of Safety Shortcomings
  9. Yields Impressive, Cost-Effective Results
  10. Inspires Action

Now, our Orlando construction lawyers will break down each of these benefits and explain why their relevance to contractors.

1. Assesses Human Factors and Culture

What should a contractor do when their audit points to unsupportive health and safety cultures as the primary cause of unsafe project sites? These values can’t always be quantified in numbers, which is one reason why safety perception surveys are so valuable. When a contractor understands the strength (or weakness) of their company’s safety culture, they can address these concerns directly. One commonality between the majority of safe project sites is a strong, positive safety culture. Establishing this culture will help you get your workers to buy in. When a large portion of your workers are dedicated to safety, it can help offset those workers who fail to conduct themselves in a cautious manner. 

Related: Cultivating a First-Class Safety Culture

The key ingredient is to demonstrate the importance of safety. You can spend days, weeks, or even months training employees on project site safety, but if they don’t think your company really cares or is simply going through the motions, you’re going to be disappointed with their lackluster performance. Remember, the purpose of safety perception surveys is to unveil the underlying human factor that is proliferating unsafe work-related practices. When combined with incident statistics and safety system audits, contractors can get real answers to their most pressing safety-related questions.

2. Encourages Anonymous, Honest Opinions

Let’s face it, nobody wants to feel like they are ratting on their employer. Unfortunately, during the audit process, this is oftentimes the way workers feel as they are interviewed by co-workers or external consultants. Although employee confidentiality is standard during these procedures, the content of an answer can tell an employer all they need to know about who said what. If an auditor doesn’t do their job correctly, it could lead to an employee being identified as a malcontent. Retaliation against an employee for blowing the whistle on poor company policies is illegal, but only if it can be proven. “Confidential” audits give employers all the protection they need to terminate a worker without fear of repercussions. As a contractor, you should be more concerned with correcting gaps in safety than punishing a worker who has voiced their concern. 

3. Reveals Employee Perceptions

How much do you really know about your employee’s thoughts and feelings about working for your company? Safety perception surveys identify more than threats to worker health and safety, they also reveal perceptions about workplace culture. As we mentioned earlier, your company’s safety culture is the foundation of your efforts to prevent worker injuries. Depending on how your workers perceive this culture, they may be more or less likely to suffer an injury.

Related: Understanding the Perceptions of Owners and Contractors

Keep in mind that every person’s reality is based on their perception, not yours. In other words, failing to mend a skewed perception can have a significant impact on project site safety. One of the most common examples of this occurs when a worker is instructed to wear a certain piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) despite the fact that the supervisor isn’t following their own instructions. Small moments like this can be a huge detriment to your overall health and safety goals, which means you could find yourself reaching out to an Orlando construction lawyer sooner than you expected. 

4. Quantifies Employee Responses More Precisely

Historically, traditional audits have subscribed to an all-or-nothing approach when evaluating safety based solely on employee interviews. In other words, responses were constricted to a binary score. If you ever took a class in college that uses a “pass or fail” grading scale, it’s kind of like that. Safety perception surveys typically use a grading scale with several values. This gives workers more options to express themselves as they see fit. It also prevents important takeaways from being overshadowed by a vague scoring system.

5. Identifies Perceptions Gaps

As we mentioned above, perception is extremely important in the context of the professional workplace. Unless you’ve perfected your company culture, your perception will differ in significant ways from those of your workers, and this difference in mindset can lead to communication issues that increase the chance of a worker being injured, becoming misinformed about work-related expectations, or coming into conflict with a fellow worker or supervisor. These gaps exist for a reason, and a safety perception survey can help you gain a better understanding of why you and your employee’s ideas are seemingly always at odds. 

Related: 3 Ways Construction Companies Can Keep Their Best Employees

On the other hand, a safety perception survey may also provide evidence of a strong alignment in perception, in which case you’ve already done your part by cultivating a strong company culture that all of your workers can embrace.

6. Helps the Contractor Develop Unique Strategies for Multiple Locations

Managing multiple projects is always a challenge for successful contractors. This makes developing a comprehensive understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each crew and project site a nearly insurmountable challenge — unless safety perception surveys are utilized. When you organize feedback by location, you can glean extremely specific insights from the information at your fingertips. If a certain issue is brought up continually on a specific project site, you can address the issue quickly and efficiently. By carefully examining the content of each survey, you can learn just about anything about your project sites, which allows you to take the necessary corrective actions to eliminate lapses in safety.

7. Identifies Opportunities for Improvement Based on Employee Classification

When safety perception surveys are combined with a highly structured database, the ability to sort data by parameter is greatly improved. Some common classifications include occupation, age, experience, and more. This can help the employer divide employees into specified groups that convey a more thorough narrative about what is really transpiring on your project sites. 

Related: Near Misses Are Valuable Opportunities to Improve Workplace Safety

Another huge benefit to this system is the ability to approach problems without singling out workers individually, which can create tension between an employee and their supervisor. After all, nobody likes to have fingers pointed at them. Keep in mind that while safety perception surveys can help you gather this information, only a proper database can help you unearth these game-changing insights.

8. Eliminates Doubt and Assuages Fear

Many companies neglect to perform a safety perception survey because they know the answers they unearth will ultimately lead to costly changes in their established workflows. However, the eventual cost of not performing these surveys is far greater than adjusting the traditional workflow. While this may be the case for some contractors, safety perception surveys can also help you eliminate doubt about the state of your project sites and the health and safety of your valued workers. Fear is a powerful emotion that can prevent you from achieving at the highest level. Fear leads to inaction, ignorance, and inconsistency — three things that have no place on the project site. You can’t be afraid of the truth; you must embrace it and use it to set your business on the long-term path to success. If one of your supervisors strongly opposes the use of a safety perception survey, it’s likely because they already know that they aren’t meeting their health and safety benchmarks.

9. Reduces Costs

Safety perception surveys can be extremely cost-effective compared to other forms of safety audits. This is because contractors can opt to perform safety perception surveys on their own, eliminating the cost of hiring professional auditors. The ability to utilize an electronic survey to collect surveys without independent interviews greatly speeds up the survey process and allows all information to be migrated to a database for organization. If you have any questions regarding safety perception surveys and your employees’ privacy rights, consult our Orlando construction attorneys. We’re happy to answer any of your questions regarding project site safety and your legal obligations as an employer.

10. Makes a Significant Difference

At the end of the day, a safety perception survey is useless if it doesn’t help you make significant improvements to the health and safety of workers on your project sites. You want to know that you did everything in your power to make a difference, and safety perception surveys give you the opportunity to take your understanding of your workers’ concerns and use them as fuel for actionable changes. In addition to your workers’ health and safety, cutting down on project site injuries and fatalities can also save you from financial and legal headaches. Every injured worker is money out of your pocket. This alone should be sufficient incentive for you to heed your employee’s words carefully and use them as a guide to inform your operations moving forward. 

Related: Improving Employee Engagement in Construction

Remember, your workers are the ones dealing with dangerous situations on the project site, not you. You need to collect their opinions of your current safety programs to get an accurate idea of how you can improve project site safety. It doesn’t take long to issue safety perception surveys, but it could save your workers (and your bottom line) in the long run. If you are dealing with a high volume of work-related injuries on your project sites, it’s time to make a change. Consult an Orlando construction attorney for all of your construction-related legal needs. 

If you would like to speak with one of our Orlando construction attorneys, please contact us today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.