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Supervisor Influence Matters When It Comes to Construction Safety

Feb. 6, 2020
New study shows that construction firms rely on the leadership of supervisors to improve safety.

While improving job-site safety has always been a top priority in the construction industry, the Safety Management in the Construction Industry SmartMarket Report series over the last eight years has shown contractors place high importance on job-site worker participation and contribution to safety. The latest SmartMarket Report, published by Dodge Data & Analytics with the support of the CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training and Procore, reinforces those findings, and places new emphasis on the importance of supervisors onsite and their leadership in promoting safety practices.

According to the research results, job-site workers and supervisors dominate four factors selected by the highest percentage of contractors as essential aspects of a world-class safety program: job-site worker involvement (84%), strong safety leadership abilities in supervisors (83%), regular safety meetings with job-site workers and supervisors (82%), and ongoing access to safety training for supervisors and job-site workers (77%). These four factors rank far above other important factors, such as regular safety audits (67%), having staff positions devoted to safety (61%), or regular safety meetings among staff at the corporate level (62%). The percentage selecting the aspects involving supervisors also increased notably between 2017 and 2019, with increases spanning seven to 10 percentage points.

The study also shows that companies rely on their supervisors and foremen to deliver safety training to job-site workers — 73% selected this as the means by which they provide training, almost 50% more than those selecting the second most popular option of using an in-house trainer. Despite this need for supervisors and foremen to provide safety leadership onsite, the study suggests that the industry tools to do so are not being fully utilized. In 2017, for example, the Foundations for Safety Leadership training module was introduced as an elective to the OSHA 30-hour safety training course; however, only 43% of those participating in the study were familiar with this offering. This is despite the fact that, among the 29% who are actually using it, nearly all (90%) report that it is effective in improving the job-site safety climate.

“Through our partnership in these studies with Dodge Data & Analytics over the years, we learned that well over 80% of the contractors surveyed relied on the OSHA 30-Hour training program for their supervisory training, even though it was not designed for that,” says Chris Cain, CPWR Executive Director. “The Foundations for Safety Leadership (FSL) module was developed to fill this gap,” she says, “and more than 70,000 workers have received the FSL training since it was first introduced three years ago. The contractors we’ve spoken to who have utilized it speak very highly of it, but from this report it is clear that we need to do a better job of promoting this free resource to the industry.”

The latest Safety Management SmartMarket Report continues to find strong business benefits resulting from contractors’ safety management programs, with more than two-thirds (69%) reporting that it increases their ability to attract new work. More than half (57%) also find that it improves their ability to retain staff, a critical factor for success in an increasingly tight labor market. “Dodge studies consistently find that most contractors are struggling with skilled worker shortages,” says Steve Jones, Senior Director, Industry Insights at Dodge Data & Analytics. “The competitive edge from being able to retain staff is growing in the industry.”

The study also looks at the tools to improve safety management — from the use of safety policies and organizational practices to training practices.

  • The most popular safety policies are the site-specific ones, including creating site-specific safety and health plans and training programs for all employees and subcontractors. However, there is room for wider adoption even of these measures, especially among small contractors (fewer than 20 employees).
  • While most contractors (66% or more) encourage workers to react to and report hazards onsite, far fewer ask workers for input on safety conditions (50%) or involve workers in safety planning (39%).
  • Contractors still expect to increase their use of online training in the next few years, but, surprisingly, a lower percentage reported using it in the current study than in the one in 2017.

Contractors are particularly excited about the potential of technology to improve safety. While a relatively low percentage are currently using technologies like wearable devices (11%), virtual reality for training (5%) and visual monitoring employing artificial intelligence (3%), a surprisingly high percentage believe that these technologies have great potential to improve safety in the next three years (63%, 36%, and 33%, respectively).

The findings of the study paint a robust picture of the issues, trends and opportunities facing the construction industry, further fueling the conversation on how to best address safety more effectively.

The Safety Management in the Construction Industry 2020 SmartMarket Report also includes case studies on becoming a data-driven safety program and improving safety culture, along with features on critical topics like substance use disorder, ergonomics and using virtual reality for safety training, and it is available for free download at

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