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Course 800 - Introduction to Construction Safety Management

The Safety Culture

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Before we get started, it is critical to understand that the only way your Construction Safety Management System (CSMS) will succeed is to make sure the underlying safety culture includes a real long-term serious commitment and tough-caring leadership by management.

This first module will briefly explore some of the important components that are necessary in an effective safety culture. By the way, if you are interested in developing your CSMS, be sure to take Course 833, Developing a Construction Safety Management System.

Safety Culture Definition

Believe it or not, OSHA actually has a pretty good definition for a safety culture. OSHA defines culture as “a combination of an organization's, attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, values, ways of doing things, and other shared characteristics of a particular group of people".

It's important to understand that, from the employer's point of view, the company's corporate culture is something to be managed, but if you ask an employee to define culture, they will likely tell you it's just…

"…the way things are around here."



The success of your company's CSMS depends on the willingness of top management to demonstrate a long term serious commitment to protect every employee from injury and illness on the job.

But how do you get it top management commitment if you don't already have it? Real commitment doesn't just appear out of thin air.

Management commitment to safety will most likely occur to the extent each manager clearly understands the positive benefits derived from their effort. Understanding the benefits will create a strong desire to do what it takes to improve the company's safety culture.

Managers will invest serious time and money into effective safety management by developing safety policies, programs, plans and procedures. They will also display leadership through effective accountability and recognition of behaviors and results.

Bottom line: Serious commitment requires serious time and money.


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Every day, construction workers, supervisors and managers have many opportunities to communicate and act in ways that demonstrate safety leadership. Unfortunately, these opportunities go unanswered because they are just not seen as real leadership opportunities.

Employers and managers do not understand that the simple expression of tough-caring safety leadership – being tough about safety standards because you care about the employee - can result in enormous benefits. The ability to perceive leadership opportunities improves the company's potential to succeed.

Tough-caring leaders also assume their workers, at all levels of the organization, are good people trying to do the best they can with the skills they have.

Employees, on the other hand, do not always have the physical resources and psychosocial support needed to achieve the kind of results expected of them. Why is that? Because they are not being provided with adequate physical resources (tools, equipment, machinery, materials, etc.) or the education, training, time, and consequences.

Effective leadership can overcome these challenges by providing the resources and training needed for their workers to excel.


Accountability ranks right at the top with management commitment as a critical ingredient in a company's safety and health management system. Why do we behave the way we do in the workplace? Consequences. Why do we take the unsafe shortcut?

Accountability may be thought of as establishing the "obligation to fulfill a task to standard or else." When you are held accountable, your performance is measured against specific criteria and consequences are applied appropriate to the level or quality of performance.

Example: If a builder has built a house for a man and his work is not strong, and if the house he has built falls in and kills the householder, that builder shall be slain. (King Hammurabi of Babylon, 18th Century B.C.)

“The ancient Romans had a tradition: whenever one of their engineers constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible: he stood under the arch.” (Michael Armstrong- Former CEO of AT&T, Hughes Electronics, and Comcast)


Management may impose all kinds of safety policies, programs, written plans, directives, rules, training, etc., yet if appropriate application of effective consequences within a culture of accountability does not exist, desired behaviors will not be sustained. If employees do not believe they are going to be held accountable for the decisions they make and the actions they take, you can be sure that any safety effort is ultimately doomed to failure.

Six important elements should be present in an employer safety accountability system:

  1. formal standards of performance
  2. adequate resources and psychosocial support
  3. a system of performance measurement
  4. application of effective consequences
  5. appropriate application of consequences
  6. continuous evaluation of the accountability system

If you believe there are weaknesses in your employer's accountability system, make sure to document the behaviors and conditions you see in the workplace that may be pointing to accountability system policies, plans, processes, procedures and practices that are inadequate or missing. You can learn more about accountability systems in Courses 700 and 712.

Goals and Objectives

An effective CSMS will include stated goals and objectives.

First, it's good to initially develop general goals or "wishes" for your construction safety. Take a look at the following general goals that would be included in the CSMS:

  • designate a qualified safety person to coordinate the program.
  • plan for safety using a written Job Safety Analysis.
  • make regular job site safety inspections and conduct health monitoring.
  • follow safety procedures and rules.
  • provide on-going safety training.
  • enforce safety rules and use appropriate discipline.

Safety objectives are measurable and more specific in terms of results. Here are some examples of operational safety objectives:

  • "Increase the number of safety suggestions submitted each month to at least 15 by July 31st."
  • "Reduce the number of back injuries in the warehouse by 70% by the end of 1997."
  • “Lower our workers compensation rate to .9 by the end of the calendar year.”

You can find out more on constructing safety goals and objectives in Course 833.

Safety and Health Policies

Safety policies help to set standards and guidelines for decision-making. They let managers, supervisors and employees make safety decisions with some degree of confidence without having to constantly check with “the boss”. Managers, supervisors and workers know they are making decisions that conform to corporate safety policies.

Below are a number of points that would be good to adopt in your companies safety and health policy:

  • No job or no task is more important than worker health and safety.
  • If a job represents a potential safety or health threat, every effort will be made to plan a safe way to do the task.
  • Every procedure must be a safe procedure. Shortcuts in safe procedures by either foremen or workers must not be tolerated.
  • If a worker observes any unsafe condition, which may pose a potential threat to their health or safety, it should be expected that employees will immediately correct the situation when feasible or inform management. Management has the responsibility to take adequate precautions, comply with OSHA standards, and assure the safety and health of employees.
  • If a job cannot be done safely it will not be done.
  • Management should provide visible ongoing commitment, resources, and leadership to assure the implementation of the SHMS. All employees should be provided equally high quality safety and health protection.
  • Leadership within a company should acknowledge the importance of creating a positive safety culture through employee involvement and effective policies and procedures.

Safety Programs

A safety “program” may be thought of as a plan of action to accomplish a safety objective. An effective safety program is designed around the processes, procedures, and practices normally assigned to employees and integrates safety-related decisions and precautions into them. Construction contractors must initiate and maintain such programs as may be necessary to comply with 1926.20(b). See Module 7 for more information on Programs.

Employer Categories on Worksites

shaking hands

On most construction worksites, more than one employer or contractor will be managing some aspect of safety as a result of the responsibilities they have been assigned. It's important to know that on multi-employer worksites more than one employer may be citable for a hazardous condition that violates an OSHA standard. According to OSHA, there are four employer categories on a multi-employer worksite:

  1. Creating employer: the employer who caused a hazardous condition that violates an OSHA standard
  2. Exposing employer: This is an employer whose own employees are exposed to the hazard.
  3. Correcting employer: This is an employer who is engaged in a common undertaking, on the same worksite as the exposing employer, and is responsible for correcting a hazard. This usually occurs where an employer is given the responsibility of installing and/or maintaining particular safety/health equipment or devices.
  4. Controlling employer: This is an employer who has general supervisory authority over the worksite, including the power to correct safety and health violations itself or require others to correct them. Control can be established by contract or, in the absence of explicit contractual provisions, by the exercise of control in practice1.
It's also important to remember that any one employer on a construction site may actually meet the criteria in more than one of the above categories.

Responsibilities (Continued)

The controlling employer/contractor assumes all obligations under the standards, whether or not he subcontracts any of the work [29 CFR 1926.16(b)]2.

To the extent that a subcontractor agrees to perform any part of the contract, he assumes responsibility for complying with the standards with respect to that part [29 CFR 1926.16(c)].

With respect to subcontracted work, the controlling contractor and any subcontractors are deemed to have joint responsibility [29 CFR 1926.16(d)].

Construction companies should designate a person to coordinate, implement, and administer the construction safety management system (CSMS). Responsibilities include:

  1. understand potential job hazards and how to eliminate them
  2. conduct or assist with Job Safety Analysis
  3. assure compliance with OSHA construction safety and health standard requirements
  4. conduct regular job site safety and health inspections
  5. establish safety and health procedures
  6. coordinate regular safety and health training
  7. conduct or assist with Tailgate or Tool Box Talks
  8. maintain documentation of training, inspections, injuries and illnesses, and other safety records
  9. participate in accident investigations and implementation of corrective actions
  10. involve employees in the implementation of the SHMS
  11. create statistical reports that compare severity and frequency rates against prior records

The Supervisor's Safety Responsibilities

The supervisor's attitude plays an important part in obtaining or preventing the acceptance of safe and healthful work practices, policies, and procedures. It is the supervisor's responsibility to identify potential hazards, identify methods to control or eliminate worksite hazards, ensure workers use safe and healthful work practices, and make sure everyone receives safety and health training to do their work.

Immediate supervisors should review, investigate, and take any necessary and appropriate action on all employee reports of hazards or potential hazards.

OSHA Requirements3
  • provide employees with sanitary and safe working conditions [29 CFR 1926.20(a)]
  • assign safety and health responsibilities [29 CFR 1926.20(b)]
  • give safety and health designees authority to correct hazards [29 CFR 1926.32(f)]
  • ensure employees that they may voice safety and health concerns without fear of reprisal [29 CFR 1903.11(d)]
  • inform employees of hazards [29 CFR 1926.21(b), 29 CFR 1926.33, 29 CFR 1926.59, 29 CFR 1926.454, 29 CFR 1926 Subpart Z]
  • coordinate hazard communication with other employers on site [29 CFR 1926.59, 29 CFR 1926.65, 29 CFR 1926.652]
  • post the OSHA State or Federal Poster [29 CFR 1903.2(a)]


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. The underlying safety culture must include a real long-term serious commitment and tough-caring leadership by _____.

2. A _____ is defined as “a combination of an organization’s, attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, values, ways of doing things, and other shared characteristics of a particular group of people.”

3. From the employer's point of view, a safety culture is _____.

4. Which of the following is the employer that causes a hazardous condition on a worksite that violates an OSHA standard?

5. It is the supervisor's responsibility to do all of the following, except _____.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.

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