Does Safety Climate Impact Hazard Recognition?

hazard recognition

There’s a whole lot of research around safety climate, but does it affect your employee’s hazard recognition?

The impact of safety climate is a significant issue because you need your employees to recognise hazards in their work areas to keep themselves and others safe. Critically, this is where things often fail, because they either don’t see the hazard or think through the possible ramifications if they fail to control the risk. At the root of the problem is an underestimation of the risk, which is common across all organisations.

The other issue that we hear from our clients is that when they ask an employee to spot a hazard in an image, they can usually find it. The problem is when they need to transfer that knowledge into practice. Too often, when the same issue appears in the workplace, they miss it. The critical piece is the transfer of hazard recognition and risk control knowledge into daily practice.

In this article, we look at some research that investigates the effect of safety climate on hazard recognition and safety risk perception levels. In a recent US study, 280 employees across 57 construction companies were surveyed and then assessed using a hazard recognition and safety risk perception activity. The purpose was to measure their hazard recognition performance. The results demonstrate that the level of safety climate in an organisation directly correlates with the ability to recognise hazards and the importance assigned to them in terms of safety risk.

Why Does the Construction Industry Perform So Badly?

Injury levels continue to remain high on construction sites and Safe Work Australia reported 13% of all serious claims in 2017-18 in the industry. Labourers and powered mobile plant operators are most at risk.

One of the causal factors of workplace injury is poor hazard recognition and the underestimation of safety risk. Consequentially, when employees fail to recognise construction hazards, or underestimate the associated safety risk, they don’t adopt effective safety risk management techniques.

Typically a large number of workplace hazards remain unrecognised. The analysis shows that employees are using existing hazard recognition methods such as job safety analyses and safety checklists poorly. It is not uncommon to hear safety professionals criticise how we use JSA’s because they have become tick-and-flick documents, and many employees don’t have the skills to write them correctly.

Others question the purpose of the JSA; is it a detailed document of the work steps with the identified hazards and controls? Or, is it a quick daily risk assessment? Too often, the way work is done, varies with the way the Job Safety Analysis prescribes, particularly when it comes to the risk control measures and the steps to complete the task.

See our article, Tips for Writing a Job Safety Analysis.

When we underestimate safety risk, we’re likely to indulge in risk-taking behaviour and the deviance from safe practices becomes normalised and more likely. Common examples of risk-taking behaviour associated with the underestimation of safety risk include the improper use of personal protective equipment, unauthorised use and operation of construction equipment, and tampering with protective guards on construction tools.

See our article, Top Workplace Hazards in the Construction Industry.

The Study Results

The study measures the level of safety climate using a 19-item survey that looks at management commitment, foreman/supervisor support, project-level safety and work-related pressure. They include activities such as visible safety checks, ceasing work when operations become unsafe, the priority of safety ahead of production, safety knowledge, rectifying safety problems, the use of PPE, training and hazard reporting.

The study finds that there was a relatively positive safety climate among the participating crews and workplaces that they surveyed.

The participants were asked to complete a hazard-spotting exercise to find potential problems within some construction workplace images. Examples include entering the exclusion zones of operating equipment, heat and dust hazards, pinch and crushing points, uneven ground that creates trip hazards or unintended movement.

For companies who rated highly in their safety climate score, the level of hazard recognition and safety risk perception were the best. However, on average, the participants only recognised 43% of the hazards in the images that were used in the spotting hazard exercise. The study proves that many of your employees can’t spot hazards, and this has a direct implication for your workplace. If employees can’t detect them in a photograph, how can you expect them to see hazards in their work areas?

See our article, Can Employees Recognise, Recall and Report Workplace Hazards?

What Does This Mean for Your Organisation?

The study argues that employers that are willing to cultivate a positive safety climate can benefit from superior hazard recognition and higher levels of perceived safety risk. The study demonstrates that a more positive safety climate can result in better hazard recognition performance, which can then translate to higher levels of perceived safety risk. The authors suggest that apart from establishing a positive safety climate, organisations should take efforts in improving hazard recognition because that will increase levels of perceived safety risk.

The Tap into Safety Platform offers interactive and engaging hazard recognition training online and on smart devices. We focus on critical risk and the common workplace hazards that can lead to a fatality or serious injury within industry-specific scenarios. The Platform has substantial out-of-the-box courses across a range of industry settings. If we don’t have what you need, we also build custom training content. If you’d like to know more, please contact us or click through to try a free online demo.

The research suggests that safety climate can also directly affect safety risk perception levels. For example, where two groups of employees with similar hazard recognition abilities, the crew with the more positive safety climate can expect to perceive higher levels of safety risk. Accordingly, the team that sees higher levels of safety risk may be less likely to undertake risk-taking behaviour.

In other words, hazard recognition by itself may not be sufficient to discourage workers or crews from adopting risky behaviour, particularly in workplaces with a poor safety climate. Therefore, establishing a robust safety climate is fundamental to workplace safety to reduce injuries and fatalities.

See our article, Can Construction Supervisors Recognise Workplace Hazards?

To Conclude

Safety climate, hazard recognition and safety risk perception directly impact the number of workplace injuries and fatalities. This study finds a link between these three areas and calls for organisations to establish a positive safety climate, where safe practice is valued and promoted. The study also reinforces the need to take efforts in improving hazard recognition because these skills should transfer into the workplace and increase levels of perceived safety risk.

However, the level of safety climate in your organisation is paramount to hazard recognition and understanding of safety risks. The research shows that low levels of safety climate correlate with high rates of risk-taking. When safety is merely given lip service and not valued or evident in practice, no amount of hazard recognition training will reduce the level of risk-taking behaviour. Establishing a robust safety climate is fundamental to workplace safety to reduce injuries and fatalities. From there, organisations need to support their employees with hazard recognition training that translates into perceived safety risks in their workplaces and in the job that they perform.

This article is also available on the Tap into Safety podcast.

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