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Psychology and Construction Safety: Mind Over It Doesn't Matter

Psychology goes a long way in the arena of safety. Individual personalities alone are a huge differentiator in how one person may act in a given situation, versus how another would respond under the same circumstances. Despite the wide range of personalities you’ll find in a workplace, there are two common psychological traits that can affect how your team responds to safety standards: feeling invincible and hard-formed habits.

Feelings of Invincibility

Feeling invincible is something you’d most likely associate with adolescence—it’s exhibited by young children who are sure that they can land impossible tricks, or teens who experiment with drugs and alcohol. But we also see feelings of invincibility in some adults—namely those who participate in high-risk sports or careers.

That being said, the ability to feel comfortable and confident on the job site is a very necessary trait. However, those who are over-confident, who feel that nothing bad will happen to them, may be treading on dangerous ground.

When people hear of an upsetting story or unfortunate event, we all like to think that such a thing would never happen to ourselves. But none of us are invincible—which is why safety efforts must always be a priority for everyone on your team.

Managers and CEOs

It is of the utmost importance that top-level executives recognize their responsibility for their employees’ safety. This will involve enacting and enforcing safety measures, providing safety equipment as required and ensuring that equipment is maintained properly.

The problem: Top-level executives don’t approve budget requests for the necessary safety equipment because they don’t feel the chances of a safety incident occurring are high enough to warrant the cost.

The solution: Take the time to again stress the importance of providing safe equipment. If your higher-ups still don’t want to splurge for the proper materials, remind them of Flintock Construction Services LLC, a New York-based construction firm that in September of 2013, due to seven violations totaling nearly $250,000 in fines, was placed in OSHA’s Sever Violator Enforcement Program. This program requires the company to alert OSHA to all future job sites and make themselves available to random site inspections.

Workers and Contractors

Sometimes stubborn workers present a roadblock in getting jobs done in the safest manner possible. While they do great work, they may not necessarily be as safe as they could be.

The problem: Workers don’t show concern about following procedures, because they’ve done it this way all their lives and it’s worked so far.

The solution: Use the OSHA website to search for incidents and fatalities that have occurred at other job sites for the exact same reason, and go over your findings with your employees. Unfortunately, OSHA’s list of incidents is updated constantly with new reports of safety-related issues. When your employees see how often the same event pops up in your search, they’ll hopefully feel more motivated to follow the procedure and avoid getting hurt themselves.

The problem: Workers rush along and don’t follow required safety procedures.

The solution: Consider offering a bonus or merit system that recognizes workers for following safety standards without being told to do so, and doesn’t penalize workers for working longer than the estimated hours for a particular job.

Check out our 5 construction safety tips that save lives!

Forming Habits

Some of your workers may currently exhibit bad safety habits on the job. Although this isn’t ideal, there is good news. Just as habits can be formed, with proper training they can also be broken and re-formed into something that supports overall safe workplace initiatives.

The Basics of Habits

Habits are formed by repeating the same actions over and over, until the act can performed without barely thinking about it. Habitual actions are trained. For example, the habit of waking up at 5:00 a.m. every day could be initiated by a ringing alarm clock. The routine, then, would include turning the alarm off and getting out of bed. The reward is getting to work on time.

Habits that are truly ingrained may be initiated without a trigger—in the same example, you may still wake up on weekends at 5:00 a.m. even when the alarm doesn’t go off and you don’t have to go to work. Ingrained habits are surprisingly not that much harder to break than any other habitual activity.

Replacing Old Habits with New Ones

If any of your workers habitually avoid certain safety practices in their work,  they will have to be retrained. Psychologists agree that a habit can be formed after three weeks of consistent action. To retrain your workers to follow proper safety measures, it is recommended that you have them repeat the same processes, properly executed, daily for at least three weeks. By this point your employees will surely be consistent in their work, and will be thoroughly familiar of the processes that they’re expected to follow.

The following tips relate directly to the construction industry and may be helpful when retraining your crew to follow safety standards.

Week One
Start the new habit-forming process with a short explanation of how this new, safer method is different from what was previously acceptable. By verbally explaining these changes, you’re making people aware of their current habits. Simply being conscious of a bad habit can often help in breaking it and reduce the likelihood of an injury. Task your crew with noting over the next week when they find themselves repeating the bad habit—this requires them to remain conscious of the behavior, identify their triggers and begin self-correcting.

Week Two
Meet again with your workers and discuss any instances in which you’ve noticed or employees have found themselves retreating back to the wrong routine. Be open and accepting of mistakes—changing habits, especially those that have been done this way for a long time, is a process that requires patience. See if you and your team can find a trend in when mistakes happen, and brainstorm how to remember the new safety standards in those situations.

Week Three
Most of your team should be performing new safety routines properly and without hesitation at this point. Reward those who are following new procedures properly, to provide further motivation for others, and work one-on-one with employees who are still having a hard time recalling the new procedures.

Download our FREE definitive guide to safety. We cover some of the most common incidents within the construction industry, and tell you what you can do to prevent them.

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