Prioritizing safety: Dr. Huang’s partners in construction

Dr. Emily Huang Safety Climate Lab meeting online with construction partners on safety climate and culture

During this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, increased prevalence of forest fires, and social and political unrest, now more than ever, the prioritization of occupational safety, health and well-being can benefit employers and their employees. Safety climate (SC) scales provide a method for measuring safety culture within an organization, and it is established as the most robust leading indicator of occupational safety across industries. SC refers to employees’ shared perceptions of their organization’s policies, procedures and practices as they relate to the value and importance of safety. Measuring employee perceptions of leadership’s commitment to safety greatly influence employee motivation and knowledge, hazardous exposures, safety incidents, and injury outcomes. Social Exchange Theory explains that SC effectively predicts outcomes through reciprocity which occurs between people. The reciprocity norm explains that treatment received by one person obligates the other person to provide similar treatment in return. It makes sense, when a company treats their employees well, their employees respond by returning the same type of treatment.

There are many reasons why organizations should prioritize safety. Organizations with high SC scores enjoy improved ROI, a safer and healthier workplace, lower turnover rates, higher job satisfaction, better engagement from employees, and increased organizational reputation and goodwill. SC assessments help organizations in evaluating culture, predicting outcomes, and finding solutions to their problems. In addition to these positive outcomes, investing in safety has financial benefits. Evidence suggests that for every dollar invested in safety, up to four dollars are saved, due to reduced injury and other costs associated with workplace accidents. Organizations who prioritize safety benefit from reduced workers’ compensation claims, lower injury rates, reduced fatalities, financial benefits, better brand reputation, elevated respect, and a more engaged and satisfied workforce.

r. Huang conducting an online feedback workshop with Fortis Construction Inc.
Dr. Emily Huang, Ph.D and the safety climate lab conducting an online feedback workshop with Fortis Construction Inc.

Dr. Huang’s Safety Climate Lab has worked with many national and multi-national organizations across industries. This is how people from companies who engaged in SC assessment felt:

  • Dale Lindstrom, the risk and safety manager for DeWitt Construction Inc. said, “The anonymous survey responses when evaluated and tabulated by the OSHU Research Team provided valuable insights into what DeWitt is doing well and areas for improvement.” Dale found that having a third party organization survey employees was beneficial in gathering unbiased and genuine responses.
  • Demetra Star from Fortis Construction Inc. said, “I can’t think of a better way to provide meaningful feedback to a safety program in the works. It was refreshing to hear from the objective observers at OHSU just how healthy our safety climate is and it was inspiring to hear the actions and plans that the study generated at Fortis Construction. I’d recommend that any company, no matter what size and no matter what level of safety maturity, measure their safety climate with the OHSU team. It will help your company. Be brave …listen to the findings, and take action.” Demetra was inspired by the comments of her employees and is taking a deeper look at their policies and procedures to see where exactly they can improve.
  • Bill Ellis, the President of Whitaker/Ellis Builders, Inc. said, “We appreciate the information and presentation. I can see how your team makes significant impacts for workplace safety.” Brandon Sirois, the Vice President of W/E added “the safety climate survey and evaluation was a great experience and very insightful for us. The survey let us have a better grasp on where we could use improvement. It also informed us on where we are doing good.” Bill and Brandon see the value of SC assessment in their company through new knowledge and an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.

Even after presenting high SC scores, many organizations are still motivated to continue improving their efforts and methods for providing the safest work environment possible for their workforce. Positive SC is enjoyed by many organizations who prioritize safety, and it is an achievable goal that improves the health and safety of a company and even has financial benefits. Quality of life at work has an immense effect on individuals and it’s never too soon to start improving it.

To advance your organization’s safety practices, contact the Safety Climate Lab at SafetyClimate@ohsu.edu or visit their websites at Dr. Emily (Yueng-hsiang) Huang’s Safety Climate Lab. Tune in next month for our podcast episode featuring safety climate and interviews from Dale Lindstrom and Demetra Star.

The Safety Climate Lab team with the Safety Director at Whitaker/Ellis Builders, Inc. at a construction site pre-COVID
The Safety Climate Lab team with the Safety Director at Whitaker/Ellis Builders, Inc. at a construction site pre-COVID

Blog post by: Dr. Emily Huang and Elisa Rega at the Safety Climate Lab.

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