Safety Behaviour in the Construction Industry

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Health and Safety Authority

Summary Statement

A multifaceted study of occupational safety culture and habits in the Irish construction industry.

Reports on the safety management systems for each of the 18 sites were completed. This analysis involved both a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the key features of the safety management systems. This section of the report provides overall conclusions of the qualitative data and follows the format of the elements of the interview schedule and the applied aims of the study. A rating procedure, with explicit criteria, was adopted to translate the qualitative material from the interviews into a quantitative score for each dimension of the interview. A composite score for each site was then computed.

Safety Plan

All of the construction sites had a safety plan and risk assessments available on site. In 83% of cases it was reported that the safety plan was developed internally, with the safety officer taking the major role in this. Only one site relied completely on external expertise, and two sites developed their safety plans with both internal and external consultation. The evidence indicates that there was little or no variation in the quality or effectiveness of the safety plan whether it was developed internally or with external consultation. The majority of safety plans were generic and not site specific. Specific site hazards were not always identified or sufficiently addressed within the plan and there was no evidence of planning for reduction or elimination of identified hazards through the implementation of control measures.

Overall it appeared that the safety plan existed to meet legislative requirements and played only a minimal role in every day safety management practices. A small number of sites had a clear plan of action, however, even in these few sites the safety plan did not play an integral role in the everyday safety management of the site.


Very few of the sites had a systematic safety-training schedule for their employees. When recruiting operatives, their safety backgrounds were not usually taken into consideration except for relevant certificates required for certain tasks. All sites had certified personnel for the following operations e.g. scaffolding, driving diggers and cranes, as legally held tickets were required to undertake these tasks. When recruiting management, only four of the sites considered safety training and relevant qualification as necessary for the job.

Two thirds of all sites conducted site safety induction training that lasted anything between 10 minutes and 1.5 hours. On average, the duration of the safety induction training was between 15-20 minutes and was usually conducted by the safety officer. While everyone agreed that the induction training was necessary, a number of the managers felt that it was performed primarily to "cover themselves" just in case something did go wrong. Overall it was felt that safety induction training was not sufficient on its own and should be supplemented by refresher courses focusing on different hazards as the site progresses.

50% of the sites reported conducting toolbox talks as part of their training schedule. A number of the sites did undertake safety toolbox talks on a regular basis, and some sites reported that the toolbox talks were organized specifically after an accident or serious incident.

All but one of the sites reported their managers undertook the CIF/CEF course - Managing Safety on Construction, or an equivalent course. A small number had also undertaken diploma courses in health and safety management. Other training offered on sites included training for the Safety Reps (a 3-day course run by ICTU), first aid courses and half-day legal briefing for managers.

In Northern Ireland there was much reliance on the mobile CITB unit, which was reported to be a very beneficial and cost effective in providing a range of safety based training. Many of the sites in the Republic expressed a positive interest in the introduction of the Safe Pass Scheme. Sites reported the Safe Pass Scheme was a welcome initiative, which may improve safety behavior and competence. Overall, sites expressed the need for additional training as well as scheduled refresher training.

While almost everyone agreed on the importance of safety training, many limitations in providing training were highlighted. For example
  • Reluctance to release staff for training - "time is money", it slows down production
  • Increasing time pressure, as sites were working towards very tight deadlines, difficult to conduct effective safety training due to time constraints
  • Insufficient manpower
  • Lack of interest by operatives to attend training
There was a general consensus by site management that the quality and quantity of the present training needed to be improved upon.


All sites undertook some level of monitoring safety on site, e.g. audits, hazard reporting, incident and accident reporting.

Internal audits were conducted on all sites on a regular basis. Two thirds of the sites also engaged in external audits conducted by the client, insurance companies or safety experts. Client and insurance audits were usually conducted on a six monthly to yearly basis while safety expert audits were generally conducted on a monthly basis. Management reported that the external audits were more successful in identifying and suggesting control measures, however it appeared that these control measures were not always effectively implemented.

There were two primary approaches to conducting safety audits on site - (I) visual inspection with findings not formally documented (ii) visual inspections supported by checklists and formal audit reports. All of the external audits were conducted using systematic checklists and formal audit reports. 80% of the internal audits relied on the checklist approach, the outcome of which was a regular audit report.

A number of similar trends from the audits (both internal and external) were consistent across the sites. For example
  • Not wearing PPE, in particular hard hats
  • Poor Scaffolding
  • Missing toe boards
  • Missing guardrails / handrails
  • Poor housekeeping, in particular poor stacking
While these problems were continually highlighted by the audits and were signed off on a regular basis as being dealt there were no preventative or control measures put in place to address and remedy the audits' outcomes.

One site (number 8) had an approach to safety management that was quite distinctive from the rest. The managing director of the small main contracting company also acted as the safety officer, conducting regular informal audits as well as unscheduled site visits. His charismatic style plus strict insistence on safety was reported to be very effective. This management approach was utmost entirely informal and very poorly backed up in documentation.

The relevant foreman dealt with most hazards on site and very few of the sites documented the hazards. It was reported than in most cases that the operatives were reluctant to report hazards, as it was felt that it wasn't part of their job. There was no formal documented system to record incidents or near misses in 75% of sites. Overall managers reported a low level of hazard, incident and near miss reporting.

There was a standard disciplinary procedure across all sites, which consisted of - 1 verbal warning, 1 written warning and then dismissal from site. Again site 8 was an exception to this - referral to head office and possible reassignment to another site being the reported disciplinary procedure.

A total of eleven out of eighteen sites had received an inspection by the relevant authority (9 out of 12 had been inspected by the HSA; 2 out of 6 by the HSE) on at least one occasion (see column 3 in table 18, page 48). The issues highlighted by the regulators during site inspections included, for example, poor edge protection, missing guardrails/handrails, poor housekeeping, not wearing PPE, poor covering of manholes and provision of poor welfare facilities. It was reported that two sites had been served with an improvement notice for poor housekeeping.

From the interview reports, there appeared to be no follow up from the HSA/HSE after their initial inspections to make sure that their recommendations were implemented. Two sites reported that they had received no feedback regarding the level of safety on their site following an inspection. One site expressed concern that they had received no correspondence from the HSA following a reportable accident.

There was mixed reaction across all sites in relation to both the role and the effectiveness of the HSA/HSE inspections. On eleven sites positive views were expressed about the inspectors (6 sites gave only positive views). Inspectors were considered as being helpful, understanding, giving good advice, and competent, and thus would welcome more in-depth inspections. While the Northern Ireland sites had received fewer inspections, there were relatively more positive comments about the HSE, and some reported using the HSE in an advisory capacity.

In twelve of the sites negative views were expressed about inspectors (7 sites gave only negative views). These included the view that inspectors encountered lacked specific knowledge or competence or had no standard procedure for inspections. Others felt the attitudes of inspectors were superior or arrogant. In all sites interviewees appeared to believe that inspectors targeted ‘high profile building contractors' and tended to neglect small contractors and sites where the safety problems were worse. It should be noted that there was no way to check or validate these comments. They were spontaneously expressed and strongly held. Because of these views, it was considered important to interview a sample of inspectors from both jurisdictions.

Table 18 summarizes the comments about inspections along general dimensions - whether there were positive or negative comments about the inspectors' role, the number of inspections reported at this site, a ranking of the level of safety compliance found (scale of 1-5) based on the reported findings of the inspectors, and a ranking (scale of 1-5) of the reported effectiveness of the visit is stimulating organizational action to improve safety.

As can be seen in table 18, the direction of the views expressed both about the role of the inspectors and about the effectiveness of the HSA/HSE to redirect organizational action does not correlate with sites being inspected or not, the number of inspections carried out or the level of safety discovered by the HSA (sites in Northern Ireland did not disclosed this information to the research team). Thus the views expressed do not simple reflect a negative reaction to an adverse inspection.

Furthermore, there was little empirical evidence of the HSA/HSE being seen to be effective in influencing organizational action. Only one site reported a positive influence, three were neutral and six were relatively negative.

  comments on HSA/HSE role by site managers number of inspections carried out by HSA/HSE in site safety level discovered by HSA/HSE effectiveness of HSA/HSE visits to redirect organizational action
site 1 + 2 3 3
site 2 +/- 2 2 4
site 3 +/- 1 4 2
site 4 - 1 1 1
site 5 + 0 - - - -
site 6 - - - - - -
site 7 +/- - 1 2
site 8 - 0 - - - -
site 9 +/- 2 4 1
site 10 - 1 2 1
site 11 + 1 4 3
site 12 - 1 4 2
site 13 + 0 - - - -
site 14 - 1 - - 1
site 15 +/- 0 - - - -
site 16 + 1 - - 3
site 17 + 0 - - - -
site 18 - 0 - - - -
Table 18: HSA/HSE role in construction safety on site


In almost all of the sites there appeared to be a high reliance on an informal approach to communication. Two thirds of all sites relied heavily on individual briefings to communicate the safety message. Only 27% had a dedicated safety meeting on a regular basis. 61% of sites had regular site meetings. However safety was not always on the agenda of this site meeting. Two out of the 18 sites incorporated poster campaigns and newsletter articles dedicated to safety.

It was agreed that the one-to-one verbal approach with operatives was the most successful means of communicating safety. Most sites had identified that their communication could be improved and viewed this as an effective means of safety management.


On almost all of the sites a very effective working relationship was reported between the company operatives and the subcontractors. There were usually problems at the beginning stages of work but it was felt that both the company managers and the subcontractors were committed maintaining a high level of cooperation.

Suggestions for improvement

The following topics were suggested as areas for improvement:
  • Additional Safety Representatives
  • Full time Safety Officer per site
  • More regular toolbox talks ! More HSA/HSE Inspections
  • Involvement of HSA/HSE at design stage
  • Introduce certified safety awareness course with regular brush up courses
  • Full time staff dedicated to housekeeping
  • Top management support and commitment
  • Better planning
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