Can Construction Supervisors Recognise Workplace Hazards?

workplace hazards

Construction supervisors’ ability to recognise workplace hazards on their sites is critical to maintaining a safe environment. They not only need to see a hazard and recognise the risks but also need to assess the hazard against the determined control measures to manage the risk.

Recent research has revealed that construction supervisors with many years of experience are unable to identify all of the hazards in their work environment. There are also discrepancies between the way they assess risk levels and the way most formal safety risk assessment methods rate risk levels. There is a serious disconnect between the work experience and safety training, and hazard identification and perception skills.

For this article, we look at a study conducted in Israel that tested supervisor hazard perception skills to recognise workplace hazards. One group was tested using photographs and construction documents and a second group was tested using a 3-sided virtual reality construction scene. The virtual training environment was the clear winner with more workplace hazards identified correctly and risk level assessments rated more highly.

However, given that familiarity with a task can lead to decreased perception of a hazard, where workers can become ‘desensitised’ to risks, traditional hazard perception training methods should be assessed. Parts of this article appeared in the CCFWA Magazine….. which also offered tips on how best to support your Supervisors.

Identify Workplace Hazards, Assess the Risk

Robust workplace safety practices list hazard identification and risk assessment as the first steps in safety risk management. This is especially important in the dynamic and disruptive environment of a construction site. Added pressures, such as the need to achieve high levels of productivity, can lead to exposure to workplace hazards. The role of the supervisor is critical to the safety of those on the construction site. They are directly in charge of construction operations and their management on a daily basis; often across multiple sites. They are also a powerful influence on the safety culture on each site, as their attitude to safety sets the standard of behaviour of those working under their supervision.

Numerous studies have shown that hazard recognition and risk perception of workers can be improved by training. Improving construction supervisors’ hazard recognition and risk perception abilities should improve workplace hazard awareness and safety on the site.

Supervisors Tested for Hazard Knowledge

In this study, supervisors were tested for their knowledge on workplace hazards around obstacles, heights, scaffolds and ladders, dangerous goods, moving equipment and personal safety. Using photographs and construction documents, supervisors with work experience and more formal safety training assessed the level of risk and probability of risk, higher than those with little work experience or formal safety training. Using virtual training, supervisors assessed the level of severity higher than those with little work experience or formal safety training.

Supervisors also identified more hazards related to working on scaffolds or stairs. They were very proficient at determining working at height risks and fall hazards, including spotting missing railings. The virtual training saw all superintendents and other workers’ hazard identification skills increase around moving equipment risks. In this case, the delivery method made a considerable difference to the training.

However, construction supervisors were unable to identify all of the hazards that safety managers were able to identify in either the paper-based training or in the virtual environment. The research also revealed discrepancies in measuring risk. While probability and severity are generally multiplied to determine an overall risk rating for a hazard, the supervisors in this study were predominantly calculating against severity.

See our article on the importance of supervisors in your workplace safety efforts.

Interactive Hazard Perception Training

Construction supervisors need to be effectively trained to recognise workplace hazards and assess the risks to ensure the most effective control measures are in place. But it can’t stop there. Hazard perception training should be a top priority for any company, regardless of the size or the industry. Hazard perception training should be made available to educate all staff on how to safely work on a construction site, how to spot a potential hazard, and how to maintain a health and safety culture that will spark awareness and interest in safety among workers. By following up hazard perception training with effective supervision, you have a recipe that will help to address construction safety risks.

The research indicates that training delivery is important, especially around specific workplace hazards, such as moving equipment, and this is where virtual and interactive training methods make a serious difference.  Learners need ownership, an active role in the process and relevance. This will produce a learning interaction that guides and embeds knowledge that will be ingrained during subsequent work practices.

See our Hazard Identification course.

Safety Training Delivery is Changing

Safety training delivery is changing and changing fast due to new employees being part of a technology-savvy generation [see our article on immersive training methods]. Their expectation to receive interactive, relevant safety training is influenced by their increased use of smartphones, gaming platforms, social media and real-time interactions with global peers on a daily basis.

Training is no longer consumed by this generation, as it has been in the past via passive deliveries, e.g. classroom chalk and talk. There’s now more emphasis than ever to create engaging learning experiences that adopt virtual technologies and digital sites.

Proactive hazard identification learning activities have been shown to embed knowledge and significantly reduce workplace incidents and injuries. In this study, there was a significant increase in hazard perception skills around people interaction and moving equipment when trained in the virtual environment.

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