Who should be responsible for crane safety?

Kevin Cunningham
May 16, 2016
By Kevin Cunningham

According to the highly recognized Canadian crane safety organizations like the B.C. Association for Crane Safety, the ideal scenario is for crane organizations to establish an employee mindset to proactively engage all workforce members in the creation of a safe work environment.

The basis of this thinking is that if everyone is actively engaged, then the risk of injury should be minimalized due to the concerted (“all in”) effort. Not only will the entire workforce benefit from this approach through fewer accidents, but your workers should experience genuine satisfaction in witnessing the positive result of their engagement. This should ultimately lead to improved morale.

Some would say then, that in reality everyone should be responsible for crane safety.

If asked “how to” make everyone responsible we likely cannot come up with a good answer. Clearly this sounds good in theory. However, it may not be effective because holding an entire group of employees accountable doesn’t seem practical, and therefore may be unmanageable in real-life crane industry practice.

The management dilemma

If your crane company is truly interested in maintaining a consistent safe work environment for all that your company does, it may be ineffective to promote that “everyone is responsible for crane safety.” Such a statement without a framework enabling your entire workforce to actually engage in the safety process represents only wishful thinking. Whatever your workforce perceives as being most important (that day) is going to affect your workers’ attitudes and drive their behavior on your job. Whatever your company states as being important (that day) is what workers will choose to focus on to ensure success in maintaining their employment.

Cultural drivers

If your company has a culture that emphasizes production first, then production is going to be the primary focus of your workforce. Supervisors are going to “push” for production and if there is anything (like safety) that may be perceived as detrimental to achieving that production goal, the safety responsibility may very well be ignored with resulting adverse outcomes. What typically happens is organizations add a safety requirement to the performance mix without addressing the underlying drivers associated with the production requirements. Depending on how much pressure your management applies to improve safety, outcomes will elicit a set of different reactions from your workforce. If the pressure for improvement in safety is weak, your workers will assume that management is not really committed to the new (safety) initiative and will eventually go on to some other one. This typically results in a cynicism on the part of your workers so they may ignore the new safety focus. And if the pressure persists, they may just pay lip service to it.

This approach is a common occurrence of work as usual that will likely result in little, if any, improvement in safety outcomes.

Fundamental safety drivers

Research of successful safety case studies indicates that there are three fundamental safety drivers you can use to impact safety culture improvement:

• Integrated planning

Planning is a fundamental pillar in the crane/construction organizational process. Safety planning is never-ending and is an ongoing process that starts before construction and is carried out during the execution of work to ensure safe and successful completion of the project. This process should be consistently reviewed to make managing the risk of injury a cornerstone of the overall construction process. This effort will ensure safe and effective crane project delivery by minimizing disruption, increasing efficiency and lowering project costs.

• Directing

The need for safety direction is a function of the knowledge and experience of your workforce (and any other trades) involved. Safety must be an integral part of directing your workforce. Your project manager should empower each worker as part of their safety direction to make decisions commensurate with each individual’s level of safety knowledge and experience. This speeds up safety problem-solving as well as production decision-making.

• Controlling risk

Your management risk control methods are critical tools you can use to direct your crane company toward its strategic safety objectives. Risk control is an integrated management technique for collecting and using safety information to motivate and direct workforce behavior and to evaluate performance. This fosters job satisfaction that leads to participation and safety involvement.

Conclusion

So for the (opening) statement, “everyone is responsible for safety,” to become reality in the sense that everyone is actively engaged and consistently strives to create a safe work environment, your management has to enable them to do so. This comes about through careful thought and action with the three fundamental safety drivers aligned in your daily projects. Your management actions and behaviors are responsible for how safety will be carried out in your crane company. 

— Kevin Cunningham

Kevin Cunningham is CEO, Construction Division, HIIG Underwriters Agency Canada, Ltd.

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