Psychological Safety in Construction

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Psychological Safety in Construction

The construction industry is a high-risk sector that involves working in hazardous environments, handling heavy machinery, and engaging in physically demanding activities. Despite the use of advanced safety measures, accidents and injuries are still prevalent in this industry. While physical safety is of utmost importance in construction, it is equally essential to recognise the role of psychological safety in ensuring a safe and productive workplace.

Psychological safety refers to the feeling of comfort and security that workers experience in expressing their ideas, opinions, and concerns without fear of retribution or negative consequences. It is an essential aspect of a healthy work environment that encourages open communication, collaboration, and innovation. In the construction industry, where workers are exposed to various risks and challenges, psychological safety can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve productivity, and enhance job satisfaction.

A study conducted by the Construction Industry Institute (CII) in 2019 found that psychological safety is a critical factor in improving safety performance in the construction industry. The study revealed that construction workers who feel psychologically safe are more likely to report safety hazards, share safety ideas and concerns, and participate in safety training programs. On the other hand, workers who perceive a lack of psychological safety are less likely to report safety issues, leading to potential accidents and injuries.

Several factors contribute to a lack of psychological safety in the construction industry. One of the most common issues is the culture of fear and blame that often exists in the industry. Workers who make mistakes or report safety concerns are often subject to blame or punishment, which can discourage them from speaking up in the future. Additionally, the lack of trust and communication between workers and management can also contribute to a lack of psychological safety.

To foster psychological safety in the construction industry, it is essential to create a culture of trust, respect, and open communication. This can be achieved through several strategies, including:

  1. Leadership commitment: Leaders in the construction industry must prioritize psychological safety and communicate its importance to their teams. They should encourage open communication, listen to workers’ concerns, and take proactive measures to address safety issues.

  2. Safety training and education: Providing workers with safety training and education can help build their confidence and knowledge, enabling them to identify and report safety hazards effectively.

  3. Reporting mechanisms: Creating safe and confidential reporting mechanisms can encourage workers to report safety hazards without fear of retribution or punishment.

  4. Encourage collaboration: Encouraging teamwork and collaboration can help foster a sense of trust and mutual respect among workers, leading to better communication and collaboration.

  5. Positive reinforcement: Recognizing and rewarding workers who report safety hazards or contribute to improving safety can reinforce the importance of psychological safety and encourage others to speak up.

 
 
 

“A psychologically safe workplace is not only good for the well-being of employees, but it’s also good for business. When employees feel safe to speak up, they’re more likely to identify safety hazards and share new ideas, which can lead to better safety performance and increased productivity.” – David Clements, Executive Director of the Construction Safety Alliance

“Creating a psychologically safe work environment is crucial for improving safety, reducing accidents and injuries, and increasing productivity. It’s also essential for building a culture of trust and respect that helps employees feel valued and supported.” – Paul de Gelder, former Australian Navy diver and motivational speaker

The ROI on psychological safety in construction

There is a return on investment (ROI) for spending money on psychological safety in the construction industry. While the ROI may not be immediately apparent, investing in psychological safety can lead to several long-term benefits that can positively impact a company’s bottom line.

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Research has shown that psychological safety is strongly linked to improved safety performance, reduced accident rates, and increased productivity. By creating a culture of psychological safety, workers are more likely to identify and report safety hazards, which can prevent accidents and injuries and reduce the associated costs. In contrast, companies that lack psychological safety may experience higher accident rates, which can lead to increased workers’ compensation claims, lost productivity, and higher insurance premiums.

Moreover, psychological safety can lead to increased job satisfaction and retention rates, reducing the cost of employee turnover. Studies have shown that workers who feel psychologically safe are more engaged, more likely to speak up about workplace issues, and less likely to leave their jobs. This can result in cost savings associated with recruiting, hiring, and training new employees.

Investing in psychological safety can also lead to improved innovation and problem-solving. When workers feel comfortable expressing their ideas and concerns, they are more likely to contribute to the development of new solutions, leading to increased efficiency and cost savings.

While the ROI for spending money on psychological safety in the construction industry may not be immediately apparent, the long-term benefits can positively impact a company’s bottom line. Improved safety performance, reduced accident rates, increased productivity, increased job satisfaction and retention rates, and improved innovation and problem-solving can all lead to cost savings and increased profitability.

Mental health in construction

Psychological safety is about creating a positive work environment. People plus science believe that a positive work environment can reduce the risk of mental health experienced in the workplace.

The construction industry in Australia and New Zealand has a significant cost of mental health issues, both in terms of economic costs and human costs.

In Australia, research by PwC estimated that mental health issues cost the construction industry up to $6 billion annually in lost productivity, absenteeism, and presenteeism (working while unwell). Additionally, workers in the construction industry are at a higher risk of suicide, with suicide rates in the industry being twice as high as in other industries.

In New Zealand, a study by the Mental Health Foundation found that the construction industry has one of the highest rates of suicide, with male construction workers being five times more likely to die by suicide than the general population. The study also found that the cost of mental health issues in the construction industry in New Zealand is estimated to be over $320 million annually, in terms of lost productivity, absenteeism, and presenteeism.

The high cost of mental health issues in the construction industry can be attributed to several factors, including the nature of the work, long hours, job insecurity, and a culture of stoicism, which can make it difficult for workers to seek help. Additionally, mental health issues in the construction industry can be compounded by other issues such as drug and alcohol use, financial stress, and relationship problems.

 

People Plus Culture

In our studies with psychological safety studies with organisations and boards we have found a number of organisations who are bravely trying to do different things to improve their cultures. Some of their successes have been by implementing the following:
 
1.  Reviewing leadership competency frameworks to ensure that they have a focus on “essential human skills” erroneously referred to as “soft skills”.
2. Focus on building diversity by working with multicultural professional associations to recruit and build cultural awareness
3. Focus on inclusion and belonging by creating social clubs at work that might be about culture, charity, religion, food, hobbies
4. Increased training on conversational skills, emotional intelligence and social intelligence
5. Cultural and neuro-diverse mapping to understand our individual strengths and share and learn from each other
6. Eliminating internal cultural and engagement surveys and replacing with team psychological safety and organisational resilience
7. Working on ensuring trust and respect is valued and demonstrated at all levels of the organisation
8. Workplace design changes to encourage workers to come into work 3 days per week and provide an environment that is suitable to their work
9. Looking at people with the right “essential skills” and identifying new opportunities and training across the business.
10. Ensuring strong feedback loops and responsive actions to raising of issues.
11.Social support by providing opportunities of team building, peer support and community involvement
12. Activities and measuring and monitoring of the level of trust.
 
 
 

Legal & Regulatory Compliance

In Australia with new WHS and Anti-discrimination laws, compliance and risk is a great motivators for change. Under these new legal amendments, business owners, directors and managers are directly responsible for ensuring a positive workplace free of bullying and harassment.
 

A focus on the new Respect@Work Laws and workplace psychosocial hazards. These two new Workplace Health and Safety Laws provide significant responsibility on business owners, CEOs, managers and directors.

 The first major changes will be a result of the Respect @Work laws which introduces a positive duty for employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sexual harassment, harassment on the grounds of sex, hostile workplace environments and victimisation, as far as possible,’ Mr Grant said.

‘The Bill places a much greater emphasis on senior managers and directors to take an active role in stamping out sexual harassment in their workplaces. Employers have always been exposed to vicarious liability for the actions of their employees breaching the Sex Discrimination Act. However, the Bill now elevates the focus directly on employers to take ‘reasonable and proportionate’ measures with the Australian Human Rights Commission now able to make direct inquiries into an organisation if the Commissioner considers that they are not complying.’

Founder of People Plus Science People + Culture Audit and Australia’s first Boardroom Psychological Safety Benchmark, Carolyn Grant sat down with Barrister Simon Grant to identify six steps recommended for business owners, CEOs, directors and organisational leaders to manage their risk and prepare for the new laws (WHS psycho-social hazards and respect@work.

 

Nine (9) Recommended steps for proactively managing new laws

  1. Update policies to ensure that they reflect the new laws on appropriate workplace behaviour, noting the broader meaning of what constitutes sexual harassment.
  2. Update all procedures to ensure that the policies work when implemented ie your whistleblower process, your complaints management system, feedback to loops, training and communication to any contractors or external third parties, updates to external contracts.
  3. Train and educate all workers on their duty of care, including targeted training sessions based on seniority and responsibility within the organisation. As best practice, training sessions should be compulsory and run at least once a year.
  4. Train and educate all workers on their rights and the processes available to them.
  5. Obtain as much guidance from internal and external resources on the new duty, including from the proposed guidelines to be issued by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
  6. Initiate an external review of your organisation’s workplace culture to determine whether there are any gaps and address any deficiencies as soon as possible.
  7. Undertake a psycho-social hazards assessment with each employee to assess risks
  8. Apply a risk management framework to mitigate and manage risks
  9. Measure, monitor, and report on the psychological safety of teams at all levels.
 
 
 

Measure, monitor + report on psychological safety

Psychological safety is a critical component of a safe and productive workplace in the construction industry. Fostering psychological safety requires a commitment from leaders, effective communication, and a culture of trust and respect.
 
By prioritising psychological safety, the construction industry can improve safety performance, reduce accidents and injuries, and enhance job satisfaction and productivity.
 
References:
  1. Construction Industry Institute. (2019). Psychological Safety in Construction. Retrieved from https://www.construction-institute.org/resources/knowledgebase/knowledge-areas/safety-psychological-safety-in-construction

  2. Edmondson, A. (2018). The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. John Wiley & Sons.

  3. Kines, P. (2019). Construction workers’ psychological safety climate: Establishing a measure and its link to safety behaviour. Safety Science, 119, 451-460.

Interested in Learning More?

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