An in-depth study, into safety culture and the ACT construction industry reveals some very interesting results about WHS training that encapsulates anecdotal evidence from those working closely with the sector, as well as building on previous research. The study findings can be used to provide parallel areas of concern across other high risk sectors.
The study placed a significant focus on safety culture and climate, investigating organisational commitment, leadership, safety behaviour, engagement, reporting, learning and resources. The report is detailed and extensive and in the interests of time we have distilled some of the findings around training and competency development as that is of significant interest to Tap into Safety.
Training in the construction industry begins at the apprenticeship level, is reinforced through the White Card WHS induction training followed by site-specific WHS inductions. The study found that the quality of training and the experience of apprentices in the ACT construction industry were areas of concern. Apprenticeships are important to the ongoing skills and knowledge base of the industry. They not only need to develop trade-based skills but also knowledge and awareness of WHS. Apprentices are a vulnerable worker group. The majority of construction apprentices are young males who are at higher risk for work-related injury (Breslin & Smith, 2005; Walters et al. 2010) due to engaging in risk-taking practices, increased alcohol consumption, alcohol related violence (du Plessis et al. 2013) and illicit substance use (du Plessis & Corney, 2011), and higher rates of smoking (Barbeau et al. 2006). Participants in this study expressed serious concerns that apprentices do not always receive the level of supervision and instruction that they need. Daily interactions between apprentices and supervisors is crucial to imparting WHS knowledge; however not all apprentices are receiving this one-on-one coaching when they enter the workforce.
Participants also held grave concerns about the quality of ‘White Card’ induction training. They were particularly critical of online training, raising concerns about the integrity of ensuring that the person to whom a card is issued may not have been the person who completed the training. Concerns about English language proficiency and fraudulent completions were high. The White Card has been reviewed a number of times in various states in Australia in the past five years and online delivery has been a major area of concern with a number of businesses no longer supporting this means of delivery (Bahn, 2012).
Participants also commented that site-specific WHS inductions are typically very long and not engaging and often delivered as ‘death by Powerpoint’. They suggested that because a number of construction workers have low levels of literacy and may not be proficient in English, a more visual means of communicating important WHS information is needed and is likely to be more effective than training via written materials. As one participant explained:
“…apart from the fact that they can’t understand, it’s how the message is conveyed …people have got literacy, numeracy and language problems. So has got to be visual…you’ve got to be comfortable that people… working on the job have actually taken that in.”
The quality of training programmes and trainers was also identified as being important to the effectiveness of WHS training. For the construction sector, classroom training was believed to be less effective than practical training because practical training reinforced how to work safely.
The extent to which principal contractors actively manage the WHS of their sub-contractors emerged in the study. As one participant explained:
“I don’t believe the principal contractors manage subcontractors very well. I think a lot of subcontractors are left to their own devices because the guys are too busy doing something else.”
Participants suggested that WHS risk is passed down to subcontractors with minimal support from principal contractors who only get involved if something goes wrong. There was an evidenced disconnect between principal contractors’ legal duties and documented procedures and safe systems of work with the way things are managed in practice.
In Summary: This study highlights the need to train WHS effectively. WHS training needs to be engaging and appeal to young apprentices and be followed up by Supervisors. The White Card requires an improved online delivery and to incorporate practical on-the-job components. Safety inductions are too long, not engaging, ‘death by Powerpoint’, endurance sessions that fail to change behaviour, lack practical examples and do nothing more than meet compliance. Finally, subcontractors are managed poorly with little verification that they understand on-site risks.
Tap Into Safety’s training platform overcomes a number of the key issues raised in this research in offering interactive and engaging WHS training that is delivered via smart devices and online. This appeals to young workers who are generally comfortable with technology. Our software has been designed to support workers with low literacy or minimal English language capabilities. we don’t use Powerpoint, we use real workplace photographic, panoramic examples that workers relate to because they show their work sites. The training is delivered in 15 minute modules and can be accessed by sub-contractors with their competencies verified before they step foot on site. A number of construction firms are actively using Tap Into Safety with outstanding results of reduced injuries and increased hazard reporting activities. If you’d like to know more please click through.