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3 Key Groups in Managing Human Factors in Construction Safety

Workers at construction job site inside building

It’s a well-known fact that managing human factors is currently the biggest challenge in safety. And that couldn’t be more true than in the construction industry.

Because construction sites are so dynamic, there’s an increased emphasis on the dangers posed by workers’ mental and physical states. But human error management isn’t simply a matter of monitoring individual workers as they go about their days.

In fact, there are several groups that all play a key role in managing human factors in the construction industry. Here’s a look at the different groups and the roles they play in improving construction safety when it comes to human error.

Leadership team

It should go without saying that an organization’s leadership team has a primary role in managing human factors. But all too often, senior leaders don’t see just how important they are in keeping a lid on human error.

There’s plenty of information available on human factors in health and safety. But in many cases, what the leadership team needs is a more focused view of what they can—and should—be doing to keep people safe.

There are multiple paths to getting an executive team to take a proactive approach to human factors, including a third-party safety education session that is geared toward company leaders. But whichever path you take, the destination always looks the same. Organizational leaders should:

  • have a shared understanding of how human factors work in construction,
  • see the value in managing human factors on an ongoing basis,
  • recognize that human factors solutions—including implementing human error training—starts with them.

It’s also vital that the folks who run construction companies understand how their systems, from the way they hire people to the pace at which work happens on the job site, can influence what might otherwise seem like an ‘individual’ human factor. (After all, one of the quickest ways to put employees at risk because of rushing is to ask them to work faster than normal.)

All this might sound like a tall order, especially if the executives at your construction company are all on different pages regarding human factors. But bit by bit, as you develop a common recognition that it’s important to mitigate human error, you’ll see a consensus emerge. Which makes it that much easier to influence another key group: construction site managers and shift supervisors.

Supervisors and frontline leaders

Supervisors are the second key group in mitigating human error. In the construction industry, shift leaders are the sturdiest link that management has to what’s happening on the ground. If anyone is in a position to influence how workers recognize and respond to human factors on a construction site, it’s supervisors and frontline leaders.

Are your supervisory personnel up to the task? It takes a very specific skill set to help manage human factors in construction. As with the leadership group, supervisors need to understand what human factors are and how they operate. But they also need to translate this knowledge into the ability to recognize the potential for human error in real time. And once they spot a possible concern, they need to know how to intervene.

It’s a lot to ask, especially because it can look like so many different things. Someone supervising a road construction crew might need to keep an eye out for distraction and complacency, while a shift leader in charge of people working on building a high-rise might be more concerned with managing complacency and other human factors that might compound the dangers of working at heights.

But there are also some universal skills regardless of the type of construction work. Focusing on human factors knowledge, employee engagement, and positive interventions can go a long way toward ensuring supervisors are pulling their weight in managing human factors.

Individual workers

It’s impossible to talk about managing human factors in the construction industry without talking about individual workers. There’s a great deal of personal responsibility in workplace safety, and employees need to do their part to keep themselves safe—but they need a great deal of support too.

Workers are often in the best position to flag a potentially-dangerous situation arising due to human factors. And sometimes, they’re the only ones who can notice how much human factors are affecting them.

But no one is born with a robust understanding of how human factors operate on a construction worksite, or what people should do to protect themselves from possible harm. Employees require training on how to deal with human factors, as well as ongoing support to put that training to practice effectively.

This is where the leadership team, supervisors, and frontline workers all intersect, with company leaders providing the material conditions to build knowledge and skills, supervisors building habits and offering real-time support, and workers making use of the things they learned in human factors training.

While these three groups—leaders, supervisors, and workers—all have very different roles to play in managing human factors on construction sites, they can all do their jobs better if they stay in constant communication. As a recent safety column about complacency says, communication between groups of workers is essential:

It gives you the opportunity to bring feedback from the individual into the organizational… system to make it better. If you’re already engaging with workers on the topic, simply asking them about their challenges or suggestions for improving the process is an easy way to identify gaps that could compromise their ability to comply [with safety regulations] in the future. 

Keep in mind that successfully reducing human error in construction safety requires everyone to do their part. Wherever you are in your journey to managing human factors in the construction industry, stay aware of how these three groups are performing. If one is trailing behind the others, it could inadvertently lead to issues throughout the company. In the construction business, it takes an entire team to rein in the potentially deadly effects of human error.

On-demand webinar

Using a Human Factors Framework for Safety and Operational Excellence

It can be hard to see the connection between safety, productivity, human factors and organizational systems. This webinar will demonstrate how a human factors framework can impact all areas of an organization, linking individual worker safety and organizational systems and provide an outline that allows leadership to manage safety-focused change.

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