Effective Communication Is Key To Keeping People Safe In Construction Jobs 673 6046832 0 14100910 1000

​Workplace safety is an area of concern for many industries, but the construction sector in particular needs to focus on it. There were 32 workplace fatalities in New Zealand in the period from 2011-2016, and between April and October of this year there were 415 notable workplace events where someone was exposed to a risk that could have caused illness, injury or death, WorkSafe New Zealand reports.

Reducing the rate of injury on construction sites is of utmost importance, and as a recent study by the National Research Centre for the Working Environment in Denmark shows, a powerful tool to achieve this is communication. What steps can you take to improve worksite safety foryour construction staff?

Danish study shows the importance of good communication 

The 2010 study in Denmark investigated the effects that increased verbal safety communication had on construction site safety. The researchers were primarily looking at leader-based communication, rather than that instigated by workers themselves. Foremen on two sites were coached in verbal safety communication and given biweekly feedback on their progress. The researchers found that over the course of the study, safety communication and levels of on-site safety had increased, whereas there was no significant change on three control sites over the same period. 

When foremen included safety in their daily conversations it had a positive effect on workplace safety.

The study concluded that when construction site foremen included safety in their daily conversations with workers it had a positive, lasting effect on worker behaviour and workplace safety conditions. It's worth noting that the study found an increase in safety communication did not mean a decrease in communication about production or work quality.

What it means to you

For companies that want to increase the safety of their construction sites and reduce accidents and risk exposure incidents, the Danish study shows that more can be done on top of existing health and safety training. To encourage safe behaviour on your site, you need to encourage conversation and discussion around safety. Get your foremen talking about workplace safety in a way that is clear to everyone on site – the key to effective communication is that everyone understands what you're talking about, and knows what's expected of them in terms of on-site behaviour.

Your foremen can encourage on-site discussion of safety issues.

The UK's Association for Consultancy and Engineering says in its Effective Health and Safety Communication guide that there are several things you should ask yourself about your workforce when considering how to communicate with them:

  • What is their preferred method of communication? If you can use channels they are already familiar and comfortable with, you reduce the chance of the medium getting in the way of the message.

  • Do they have good literacy skills, or do you need to focus on verbal or pictorial communication?

  • Is your workforce diverse in terms of culture, age, background or skill level? Then you may need to communicate the same safety message in a range of different ways to make sure everyone receives it.

  • How familiar are your workers with the task or safety measure you're talking about? If they feel comfortable with what they're doing they can be less likely to look for more information or instructions.

The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) recommends using both formal and informal methods of communication to discuss health and safety with your workers. It says that this ensures they understand the health and safety rules and procedures that you're using, and why you're using them. Furthermore, ACC says, actively involving your workers in health and safety programmes improves their effectiveness.

Your employees are the ones onsite who regularly see the workplace hazards, so they're in a good position to offer useful suggestions for improvements. And if staff are actively involved in identifying problems and suggesting ways to fix them, they're more likely to commit to working towards those solutions, ACC says.

To really engage your workers you need to create a dialogue that they feel they can contribute to.

Communication doesn't just go in one direction. To really engage your workers with health and safety you need to create a dialogue that they feel they can contribute to. And to do that, you need to make sure that it's a dialogue everyone understands.

Kiwis' unique methods of communication

In its advice to overseas workers coming to work in our construction industry, Immigration New Zealand notes that there are some idiosyncrasies to the way Kiwis communicate on site. In particular it notes our lack of formality, our tolerance of challenges or complaints from workers, and, perhaps most importantly, our use of softeners and indirect language to add politeness to requests or commands.

This is significant because it shows a cultural aspect of New Zealand construction sites that could cause communication breakdowns, especially with migrant workers. When encouraging safety communication among your staff, it is important to make sure that this is done in a way that gets the message across clearly to everyone on site. It's no good getting people to talk more about safety if the people they're talking to don't understand the message.

Encouraging workplace safety is only effective if everyone understands what you're talking about.

Further communication barriers

The communication difficulties for foreign workers on New Zealand construction sites can go beyond Kiwis' unique turns of phrase if there are workers on your site who are not fluent in English. WorkSafe Victoria has discussed the same problem for Australian building sites, and makes suggestions that can be applied equally well here in New Zealand. It says that the ongoing dialogue about workplace safety cannot be limited to English speaking workers, and offers the following ways to make sure non-English speakers are not excluded from important safety communication:

  • Use practical demonstrations as well as words.

  • If there are a lot of non-English speaking workers on site who share a common language, hold additional meetings in that language or providing translations of signage and safety information.

  • Allocate extra time during meetings or training to make sure they've understood or to clear up any questions they may have.

WorkSafe Victoria acknowledges that language competency and cultural differences can be sensitive issues, but says that employers should nevertheless take steps to address the issue.

Whether you employ permanent or temporary staff for your construction jobs, keeping them safe is a priority. Tradestaff is committed to ensuring the ongoing safety of all our workers, wherever they're placed. We put significant effort into promoting workplace safety education and training, and it shouldn't stop there. A safe construction site is a collaborative effort between you, your workers and us. For temporary or permanent staff who care about workplace safety, get in touch with Tradestaff today.