The Road to A Safer Industry

ThinkstockPhotos 584498620By Joshua Estrin, Ph.D

Research is often a long-term commitment that takes years before becoming available to the industry for review and discussion. While there are numerous factors that make this a reality, one of the most challenging is a willingness by key industry stakeholders to work collaboratively with researchers on seminal studies, in this case construction safety.  Safety in our industry is a hot topic, but when asked to make a commitment to research that will save lives, many of our largest organizations refuse to work towards the common goal of decreasing the number of construction fatalities.

 In 2010, I began my seminal work on the relationship between leadership style and climate of safety among workers and management in the construction industry and could not have realized one of the largest sample sizes to date for any quantitative research on the topic without the commitment of Construction Today and editor Jim Harris.

As contributor to the magazine, I am both appreciative and encouraged as we as an industry have a distance to travel in redefining the parameters of safety constructs that work; but we can and will achieve this goal with the support of industry organizations such as Construction Today.

The construction industry has yet to effectively integrate a large-scale, sustainable and replicable model of construction safety initiated of and by the industry demanding the emergence of forums that facilitate necessary discussions to ensure that management does more than address safety at the macro-level (i.e., culture of safety). This research argued that both managers and workers already put a high priority on safety. Yet, this does not seem to be enough, as the construction industry of and to itself has been unable to effectively offer integrated solutions that would support a shift from placing the blame on the worker to recognizing the true systemic nature of both the industry and the activities it engenders at the construction job site. Further, it argued for the need to reevaluate at all levels of construction safety regarding policy construct, the design and the decision-making processes of those who rank highest in the system hierarchy.

The purpose of this research was to explore the perception of climate of safety among construction managers and workers and also to determine if there was a relationship between the perception of safety and the three distinct leadership styles: authoritarian, participatory and free rein. Additionally, this study endeavored to find if certain demographics within the construction industry had any statistical relevance regarding the aforementioned areas of investigation. Specifically, the characteristics of age, gender, geographic location of the worker and/or manager, level of education, union affiliation, and company size were utilized in an effort to further extrapolate any interdependence between groups and variables. 

This study was also interested in the macro-level conflict within the construction industry, as this industry has continued to lead a very public call to action for job site/worker safety. Although construction safety has been the driving force behind all projects, the levels of severe and fatal injuries across the continuum of the construction field have surpassed all other industries. This issue is crucial to the industry as it is inherently hazardous.  as such, safety and the exposure of the worker to unsafe conditions, unsafe acts, or a combination of both must be addressed.

Therefore, as a result of the complexity of construction safety management and the inclusion of multiple trades and multi-organizational partnerships in the construction industry, this research offers new insights into the impediments that still exist systemically and obstruct the formation of an effective means of understanding the impact of management styles at the macro, mezzo and micro levels.

Joshua Estrin, Ph.D, is a partner with Sarasota, Fla.-based construction forensic services firm Stephen A. Estrin & Co. Inc., specializing in construction safety management. He is also an adjunct professor at Columbia University in New York City. He can be reached at [email protected].com.

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