A construction employer once told me about an attitude he sees on worksites.
“People really don’t pay attention to how dangerous the industry is,” he said. “I see it all the time. It’s a leftover cultural thing where, to some degree, there’s almost a pride in avoiding some of the basic safety standards that are out there. For example, not wearing fall protection when you’re up on a roof, or not wearing eye protection and being careless around power tools.”
I emailed my good friend John Crombie to see if he agreed. John worked as a construction labourer for many years before taking the Construction Safety Officer program at BCIT and eventually moving into the building maintenance/tenant management business. He said he’d seen and done many of the same things himself in the past.
“I don’t think it is macho, or a matter of pride, exactly. I always wanted to hurry up and cut corners,” John said. “It really took me a while, and the threat of serious punishment, to realize that I was working unsafely and there was no reason, outside my own head and heart, for doing so. At some point I realized that I was the one who put the rules aside. Part of it is speed and convenience… For too long, following safety requirements seemed like an added burden. We had to put up with low pay, hard work, bad weather, overtime, and now – MORE safety rules!”
But John said his perspective changed over time, especially once he was a CSO.
“At some point, especially when I became responsible for the safety supervision of other workers, and responsible for how well they followed the rules, I realized that adherence to safety was all part of doing our best,” John said. “Doing our best became: safely, completely, and on time. Getting paid more also helped, as in working safely is also working more skillfully, and if this is rewarded with better pay – reflecting a higher level of training and output – then it all works better.”
Thanks to John for sharing his story and always being there for my questions. For more information on residential construction safety, check out the cover story by Helena Bryan in the March/April 2011 issue of WorkSafe Magazine.
More info is also available from the BC Construction Safety Alliance – a non-profit association that develops health and safety programs, tools and resources for more than 35,000 construction employers and 180,000 workers in our province.