NSCA Foundation

New model to improve construction health and safety

Thursday, 11 July, 2019

New model to improve construction health and safety

A new leadership maturity model could help frontline construction managers improve on-site work health and safety practices.

The model, developed by researchers at RMIT University, identifies six key areas in which frontline leadership behaviour can impact health and safety and provides organisations with a framework to assess and improve their ‘maturity’ level over time. Here, Dr David Oswald and Distinguished Professor Helen Lingard, who constructed the model, categorised maturity levels from least to most mature as: “Lacking in health and safety participation”, “Adopts a cooperative approach” and “Actively participating in health and safety”.

Key areas measured included: working relationships between foremen and subcontractor supervisors and their leadership styles; foremen’s and workers’ relationships; subcontractor supervisor-to-supervisor relationships; workgroup communication and relationships between frontline leaders; and health and safety supervisors. For example, in a mature foreman–supervisor relationship, managers would actively discuss work processes to identify the “safest and healthiest ways of working” and work together to achieve them. They would communicate respectfully and productively and have a shared understanding of the need to achieve high health and safety standards. Conversely, in an immature relationship, foremen would provide one-way, directive (and sometimes hostile) instructions to the supervisor. The managers would have different and conflicting health and safety expectations, with the supervisor potentially believing expected standards are unrealistic, impractical or unachievable.

Supervisor-to-supervisor relationships were also found to be critical for ensuring all on-site workers’ health and safety. In a mature relationship, supervisors from different teams and trades would frequently discuss their planned work and potential conflicts or health and safety impacts. They would also share important knowledge or equipment to improve health and safety outcomes. Additionally, foremen or supervisors who had developed mature relationships with health and safety advisors would view them as a source of advice, health and support, rather than an obstruction or problem to be dealt with.

This model is the first known construction frontline health and safety leadership model which can be used as a practical tool in industry and a framework for providing theoretical insights into the ways frontline managers influence health and safety performance, according to the researchers.

The study was published in the October 2019 issue of Safety Science.

Image credit: © stock.adobe.com/au/fotogestoeber

NSCA Foundation is a member based, non-profit organisation working together with members to improve workplace health and safety throughout Australia. For more information and membership details click here
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