Empirical evidence of human factor based methodologies for the reduction of accidents in the building and construction sector

The high occupational accident rates in the construction sector have led to the development of several human factor based intervention tools in order to improve safety performance. Several studies provide evidence for specific and effective interventions in the building and construction sector developed under the Behavioural Based Safety (BBS) management approach. This paper presents the process, main characteristics and empirical evidence about this type of interventions, in order to expand their application to the Spanish building construction sector.
Palabras Clave: 
behaviour based safety, building
Autor principal: 
José Luis
Meliá Navarro
Coautores: 
Marta
Becerril Galindo
Pete
Kines
Javier
Herruzo
Carles
Salas Ollé

Universitat de València - Unitat d’Investigació de Psicometria Facultat de Psicologia – Blasco Ibáñez, 2146010 València - SpainTel: +34 96 386 45 48 Email: Jose.L.Melia@uv.es Web: www.uv.es/seguridadlaboralBecerril Galindo, MartaUniversitat de València - Unitat d’Investigació de Psicometria Facultat de PsicologiaValencia SpainKines, PeteSenior ResearcherNational Insitute of Occupational Health CopenhagenDenmarkSalas Ollé, CarlosUniversitat Politécnica de Catalunya BarcelonaSpainHerruzo,   Javier Universidad de Córdoba CórdobaSpain

ABSTRACT

ABSTRACT

The high occupational accident rates in the construction sector have led to the development of several human factor based intervention tools in order to improve safety performance. Several studies provide evidence for specific and effective interventions in the building and construction sector developed under the Behavioural Based Safety (BBS) management approach. This paper presents the process, main characteristics and empirical evidence about this type of interventions, in order to expand their application to the Spanish building construction sector.

Keywords

Keywords

Construction sector, occupational accidents, behaviour based safety, intervention methods.

The construction sector is known for its high occupational accident rates. In the 15-country European Union, the incidence rate of accidents with more than three days missed in the construction sector was 6,069 (EUROSTAT, 2005), with this rate being the highest in comparison with the other sectors: agriculture, hunting and forestry (4,560), manufacturing (3,505), electricity, gas and water supply (1,830), wholesale and retail trade, repair of motor vehicles, motorcycles and personal and household goods, (2,184), hotels and restaurants (2,943), transport, storage and communication (3,696) and financial intermediation, real estate, renting and business activities (1,439). In the USA, the construction sector had the highest number of fatal injuries, and these accidents represented the fourth highest incidence rate of fatal occupational injuries (Bureau of Labour Statistics, 2006). In 2006, 10.8 fatal accidents for each 100,000 workers occurred in the construction sector. Additionally, in some countries a gross underreporting of the main types of accidents has been identified (e.g., Evanoff, Abedin, Grayson, Dale, Wolf, & Bohr, 2002). In the construction sector, it has been estimated that underreported deaths account for 25% of all fatal occupational injuries (HSE, 2005), and a follow-up study of 250 construction establishments during a 10-year period has also replicated a pattern of underreporting accidents (Conway, & Svenson, 1998).

In Spain, in the last few years, the construction sector has showed an outstanding development. Construction companies employee 2,348,976 workers, representing 12.6% of the Spanish workforce (INSHT, 2007) and 14% of the Spanish Gross National Product (GDP). However, the construction sector also has a negative aspect due to its high index of occupational accidents. In 2006, Spanish construction workers had 262,565 accidents with leave, 26.17% of the total number of work accidents in Spain during this period. The Spanish construction sector has an incidence rate of 13,541.27 injured workers for each 100,000 workers, while the same rate for all Spanish sectors combined is 6,472.77 (MTAS, 2006).

Although the construction sector has not been subject to much intervention research, largely because of the complexity of the industry (Ringen, Englund, Welch, Weeks, & Seegal, 1995), there have been some efforts to reduce its unacceptable accident rates. The main and most effective efforts have consisted of the development and application of safety engineering solutions and Behaviour- Based Safety management (BBS) interventions. In Spain, in our experience, most construction companies have introduced many common solutions based on safety engineering as routine preventive action, and some medium and large companies also apply some observation and control methods in a rather intuitive way. However, the scientifically tested methodologies devoted to improving the contribution of human behaviour to safe or unsafe conditions have largely been ignored. To the best of our knowledge, there have been no papers or professional reports published that deal with the practical application of such methods inside the Spanish construction sector.

The purpose of this paper is to present the process, main characteristics and empirical evidence for effective BBS interventions in the building and construction sector. The importance of this objective lies in the diffusion of these methodologies to the preventive services and professional safety staffs of companies, in order to facilitate their application in the Spanish construction industry.

The BBS interventions have their theoretical basis in the behaviour modification approach (Skinner, 1938). One of the most important premises of this approach is that human behaviour is the result of human learning, and learning is a function of the consequences of human behaviour. Thus, the frequency of desirable or undesirable behaviours (i.e., safe or unsafe behaviours) can be modified by the contingent reinforcing of such behaviours. In the occupational safety context, there is strong evidence about the relationship between workers’ unsafe behaviours and accident involvement (e.g., Hoffmann, & Stetzer, 1996; Neal, & Griffin, 2006; Robson, Shannon, Goldenhar, & Hale, 2001). Therefore, from a behaviour modification point of view, occupational accidents can be reduced by means of intervention programs embracing behavioural techniques that increase workers’ safe behaviours and decrease workers’ unsafe behaviours (Meliá, 2007a).

The most important and effective behavioural techniques implemented across studies are: providing feedback on individual safety performance (e.g., Zohar, Cohen, & Azar, 1980; Olson, & Austin, 2001), providing feedback on group safety performance (e.g., Komaki, Barwick, & Scott, 1978; Menckel, Hagberg, Engkvist, & Wigaeus-Hjelm, 1997; Näsänen, & Saari, 1987; Stephens, & Ludwig, 2005), providing safety reinforcement using some kind of incentives (e.g., Haynes, Pine, & Fitch, 1982), goal setting (e.g., Stephens, & Ludwig, 2005), team competition (e.g., Haynes, Pine, & Fitch, 1982), and specific behavioural safety training (e.g. Komaki, Barwick, & Scott, 1978; Stephens, & Ludwig, 2005). All of these intervention techniques should be implemented within a careful intervention design, maintaining constant control of the results (Meliá, 2007b).

Safety interventions have considered accident reduction as their main objective and their final criterion to measure their effectiveness; i.e., the traditional indicators of safety performance have been accident counts or indexes. However, the literature has highlighted the importance of also considering other dependent variables. Accident counts and indexes, due to their probabilistic nature and their hardy skewed distribution, are not sensitive enough to safety changes and improvements. Therefore, although accident counts and accident rates should be registered and controlled, more sensitive and representative indexes of safety should also be considered. This condition has induced behavioural safety interventions to also introduce alternative measures of safety performance. Because non compliance with safety rules and procedures has been frequently implicated as a main contributory factor in incident and accident occurrence (e.g., Neal, & Griffin, 2006), many behavioural safety interventions have considered behavioural measurements that are mainly based on compliance with safety procedures on relevant safety issues (e.g., Duff, Roberston, Cooper, & Phillips, 1993). Others have introduced an observational mixture of safe behaviours and safe conditions directly linked to the safe and unsafe behaviours (e.g. Laitinen, Marjamäki & Päivärinta, 1999).

The BBS interventions have been tested and successfully contrasted during the last three decades in diverse occupational sectors, and they have been found to systematically improve safety. At first, these safety interventions were mainly applied in the manufacturing industrial sector (e.g., Bird, & Schlesinger, 1970; Chhokar, & Wallin, 1984; Fellner, & Sulzer-Azaroff, 1984; Komaki, Barwick, & Scott, 1978), but they have increasingly been applied to other sectors, such as the shipyard sector (e.g., Näsänen, & Saari, 1987; Saarela, 1989), the transportation sector (e.g., Olson, & Austin, 2001) or the health care sector (e.g., Menckel, Hagberg, Engkvist, & Wigaeus-Hjelm, 1997; Stephens, & Ludwig, 2005). Literature reviews show the successful results of this approach for changing unsafe behaviours and reducing accidents and accident-related costs (Alvero, Bucklin, & Austin, 2001; Geller, 2005; Grindle, Dickinson, & Boettcher, 2000; McAfee, & Winn, 1989; Sulzer-Azaroff, McCan, & Harris, 2001; Williams, & Geller, 2000).

The implementation of a BBS intervention follows a well-defined sequence of steps. Figure 1 represents the general process of implementation. This process can be structured in the following main phases: (a) Identifying the List of Key Behaviours (LKB) and performing its behavioural functional analysis, (b) planning the design for the intervention and preparing training material about the LKB, (c) obtaining a set of registers previous to the intervention, i.e., the multiple baseline, and (d) implementing the intervention on the LKB while keeping its effects controlled.

A. Identifying the LKB and functional analysis

The first stage is devoted to the identification of the so-called List of Key Behaviours (LKB). A key behaviour is a main target, an observable safe behaviour, usually incompatible with one or more unsafe behaviours directly involved in accident records (Chhokar, 1990). Common examples of key behaviours are the correct use of individual protective equipment or the correct performance of safety procedures or rules. The LKB should be identified based on the available safety records (e.g., accidents analysis) and other methodologies, such as the direct observation of work, group or individual interviews, or even questionnaires containing open questions. The safe behaviours included in the LKB should be few, observable, and directly relevant to safety.

A behavioural functional analysis should be applied to each key behaviour. This analysis identifies the consequents (e.g., reinforcements and punishments) and the antecedents (e.g., the discriminative stimuli that facilitate or even trigger the emission of the behaviour) that affect the probability of the key safe behaviour and its incompatible unsafe behaviours. This is done mainly through observation of work, although the analysis of previous safety records, interviews, meetings and other methodologies can also help. The LKB defines the target of the intervention. Therefore, making an accurate choice is fundamental to the success of the program.

B. Planning the BBS intervention

Once the LKB is defined and analyzed, in the second stage, the planning of the intervention takes place. This involves some key decisions, such as the type of behavioural intervention techniques (e.g., feedback, reinforcement, goal-setting, token economy…) and the intervention design (e.g., multiple base line design, group control, etc.). The multiple base line design uses some comparable targets, such as different jobs, work sites, crews, groups, plant organizations or, even, different behaviours

Usually, some specific training material about the safe and unsafe behaviours under intervention should be developed, and all the participants should know and understand this material. These materials frequently consist of visual models (e.g., pictures or video records) of the safe behaviour and the undesired unsafe behaviours included in the LKB. All involved staff and concerned employees must be familiar with this training material before going on to register safe behaviours.

C. Obtaining the multiple base line of the LKB

Before introducing the intervention (e.g., the feedback or reinforcement), the behaviour based safety program takes the time to get a clear baseline of the LKB on each separate unit under intervention. To do this, a standard specific observation tool for the LKB should be developed and tested, and some workers and/or technicians should be trained in its use.

The systematic observation and registering of safe work performance is a main characteristic of many BBS programs. It usually implies the development of a sampling schedule. Observation protocols and observation procedures should benon intrusive and as simple as possible, in order to easily integrate them into the work procedures.

D. Implementing and controlling the intervention

Once the baseline accomplishes certain technical conditions (e.g., a high enough number of points and stability), the intervention stage takes place. The intervention usually consists of the modification of the safe behaviour by introducing behavioural techniques, such as goal setting, feedback, reinforcement or token economies.

During the entire intervention phase, the LKB is observed and registered, just as occurred in the baseline phase. Periodically, the registers are analysed and the program (LKB, type feedback, reinforcement, etc.) is readjusted if necessary.

A successful BBS program produces six positive effects:

  • 1. Increases the probability of the safe behaviours and the safe conditions considered in the LKB. Improvements of more than 20 points in the percentage of safe behaviours are not unusual.
  • 2. Decreases the variability of the percentage of safe behaviours; i.e., the behaviour is not only safer; it is also more stable.
  • 3. Decreases the number of injuries, accidents related to the LKB.
  • 4. Decreases the amount of cost of accidents.
  • 5. Increases favourable safety attitudes.
  • 6. Facilitates positive safety participation.

Figure 1. General process of a behaviour-based safety management intervention.

BEHAVIOUR-BASED SAFETY MANAGEMENT IN THE BUILIDING AND CONSTRUCTION SECTOR

The behaviour-based safety interventions have also been adapted to the construction sector. The general process of a behaviour-based safety intervention in the construction sector can be represented through the same general phases, eventhough we can find some peculiarities.

The preliminary phases, as in the BBS programs for other industries, comprise previous tasks that are fundamental to the success of the intervention: identification of the LKB, functional analysis of the LKB, intervention planning, development of safety training materials and development of the standard safety observation tool. A common characteristic of some BBS intervention programs in construction is the election of some observable safety conditions as key indicators. These chosen safety conditions are generally directly linked as evident results of safety behaviours. In construction the LKB usually identifies the key and observable safe behaviours and safety conditions of the construction workers, which are relevant to safety on the construction site. The functional analysis of these behaviours and conditions provides a clear identification of their specific main antecedents and consequences. The planning of the intervention involves the determination of the behavioural techniques and the design to be applied in the intervention phase. A standard safety observation tool is created to measure the construction workers’ safety performance on the LKB during the base line and intervention phases. During these preliminary phases, it is usually necessary to organize one or more meetings with safety technicians, supervisors and workers, in order to assure their participation and contribution to the assessment process, the process of planning the intervention, and the following phases. Although it is not a strictly necessary component of BBS programs, a participative approach will prevent some difficulties and facilitate the contribution of all the parts involved.

In the baseline phase, the safety staff, supervisors or workers in the company periodically register the workers’ safety performance by means of the standard safety observation tool. For each observational unit, e.g. for each construction site, the results of every observation or the results of several observations using the safety standard observation tool, e.g., in a weekly basis, can be synthesized into a Safety Index (SI) as an objective and sensitive indicator of safety performance. The SI is based simultaneously on the workers’ safe or unsafe behaviours, mainly related to the compliance with safety procedures and rules about relevant construction issues, and usually also in some key safe conditions directly related to relevant safety behaviours. The SI may be calculated as a percentage of the correct observed items related to all the observed items. Thus, the SI varies from 0% to 100% on a clear interpretable scale. The duration of this phase will be affected by the duration of the construction project, but it is recommendable to obtain a certain number of observational points and some stability in the SI before beginning the following phase.

The most frequent items to be observed on standard observation construction tools are related to the following safety construction issues: use of the personal protective equipment (Duff, et al., 1993), housekeeping (e.g., Duff, et al., 1993; Lingard, & Rowlinson, 1997), access to heights (e.g., Duff, et al., 1993; Laitinen, & Ruohomäki, 1996; Laitinen, Marjamäki, & Päivärinta, 1999; Lingard, & Rowlinson, 1997), and scaffolding (e.g., Duff, et al., 1993; Lingard, & Rowlinson, 1997). Other safety issues considered in the standard observation tools are work habits, ladders, machines and equipment, protection against falling, lighting and electricity, and order and tidiness (e.g., Laitinen, & Ruohomäki, 1996; Laitinen, Marjamäki, & Päivärinta, 1999).

The intervention phase is the time when the preventive action is properly implemented. After the baseline observations, an information meeting is usually organized for workers on the construction site. At this meeting, an explanation should be made of the process of the intervention, the main safety standards and targets at work, and the safety indexes obtained in the baseline observation. During the entire intervention phase, the SI continues to be calculated by means of the records provided by the safety standard observation tool.

At this point, one or more of the various main behavioural intervention techniques can be introduced. The main intervention procedures are: (a) goal setting about the SI for the next weeks or months; (b) posted feedback about the workers’ safety performance; i.e., the SI can be marked on a feedback graphic which is posted in a place visible to all workers (e.g., the walls of the dining room);(c) The reinforcement of the workers’ safety performance by means of providingsome type of tangible or intangible incentives, (d) The reinforcement of workers’ safety performance by means of a token economy, i.e. a catalogue of reinforcements, the workers being able to choose among the reinforcements, according to their value.

Although different safety interventions involve different idiosyncratic characteristics, there are some main general properties of the behaviour-based safety interventions in the construction sector:

(a) Learning the method process for the safety technicians is easy. This learning implies knowing the main current construction safety standards, how to identify key behaviours and conditions, and training in the observational process;

(b) The safety standard observation tool considers simultaneously the workers’ safe or unsafe behaviours and the safe or unsafe conditions directly produced by these behaviours. This characteristic makes the tool more useful and easier to apply and, hence, facilitates a better understanding and acceptance of these procedures on the construction sites;

(c) Given that there is some degree of similarity among the construction sites pertaining to each sub- sector (i.e, edification, civil construction…), the safety standard observation tool can be applied in a general way in each construction sub- sector;

(d) These intervention methods are very flexible and, therefore, can be easily adapted to many types and stages of construction sites;

(e) Given that most construction projects change on their own, changing the work setting, the main tasks, the set of risk and even the workers involved, BBS interventions must adapt their observational and intervention instruments so that they are useful throughout the project.

(f) The implementation of the method does not involve a high economic cost. The main economic costs stem from the time invested in the use of the standard observation tool. Even so, this cost is not very high because it is recommended to integrate the observation into the natural work process of the employees involved, rather than keeping it as a separate and exclusive task for technical staff. In some programs, this time is estimated as approximately one hour every week; and

(g) Finally, the method emphasizes positive feedback and does not stress the negative safety aspects.

EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE

Many outstanding examples of the application of these behavioural techniques in the construction sector are available: goal setting (e.g., Austin, Kessler, Riccobono, & Baile, 1996; Duff, et al., 1993; Lingard, & Rowlinson, 1997; Mattila, & Hyodynmaa (1988), providing feedback on group performance (e.g., Austin, et al., 1996; Duff, et al., 1993; Laitinen, & Ruohomäki, 1996; Laitinen, Marjamäki, & Päivärinta, 1999; Lingard, & Rowlinson, 1997; Mattila, & Hyodynmaa,1988) and providing tangible incentives (e.g., Austin, et al., 1996). At this point, we will present some representative studies that provide empirical evidence for BBS interventions to improve safety performance in the construction setting.

Mattila and Hyodynmaa (1988) developed one of the first studies aimed to determine whether behaviour-based safety interventions can be used effectively to improve safety in the construction sector. These authors applied behaviour analysis in connection with the internal safety inspections at a construction site, and they evaluated experimentally the effectiveness of this safety intervention in comparison with another similar construction site taken as a control group. The behaviour analysis program included specific safety targets, follow-up and reliable feedback. On the experimental construction site, the accident rate was lower, and the accidents were less serious than at the control construction site.

Duff et al., (1993) developed and tested a tool to measure safety performance on six construction sites, and they used this tool for the evaluation of the workers’ compliance with procedures related to the following safety categories: scaffolding, access to heights, housekeeping and protective personal equipment. This tool proved to be reliable. This research applied several forms of goal-setting, training and feedback to improve safety in the following safety categories: scaffolding, access to heights and housekeeping. The safety category “protective personal equipment” was considered as a control. Therefore, it was registered, but it was not the object of any intervention procedure. The results showed that this intervention produced marked improvements in safety. Safety performance improved in all the experimental categories. However, safety performance in the control category showed no change. Among the intervention techniques, the addition of goal-setting and feedback produced the strongest effect. Furthermore, participative goal-setting was more effective than assigned goal-setting. Management commitment to safety appears as an important moderator of the effectiveness of the intervention method, given that high levels of management safety commitment enhanced the effectiveness of the intervention.

Austin, et al., (1996) conducted two studies to examine the effects of feedback and reinforcement on safety behaviour among a roofing crew. In the first study, roofers received graphic and verbal feedback on their previous day’s safety performance with regard to a specific safety goal. In addition, they received a weekly monetary reinforcement based on labour savings, i.e., the difference between the actual and estimated labour cost. The results showed a 64% labour cost reduction compared to the pre-intervention conditions. In the second study, the authors describe an observational safety checklist to measure roofers’ safety performance and the results of a behavioural safety intervention. During the intervention, roofers’ safety performance was measured by means of the observational safety checklist. They received feedback daily regarding their safety performance, and they earned time off if they reached or exceeded 80% compliance with safety items on the observational safety checklist. The roofers improved from an average baseline level of 51% on the ground construction phase of their work to a level of 90%, and from an average baseline level of 55% on the roof construction phase of their work to a level of 95%.

Lingard and Rowlinson (1997) carried out a behaviour-based safety management intervention on seven public housing construction sites in Honk Kong. The program consists of the following behavioural techniques: performance measurement, participative goal setting, and the provision of performance feedback. Results were mixed because behaviour-based safety techniques were highly effective in improvements in site housekeeping, but significant improvements in access to heights were only observed on two of the seven sites, and there was no significant improvement in the use of scaffolding during the intervention.

Laitinen and Ruohomäki (1996) and Laitinen, Marjamäki and Päivärinta (1999) developed a behaviour-based safety method to reduce accidents in the Finish construction sector. This method contributed to the development of a safety observation tool to measure safety performance in relation to the following safety issues: work habits, scaffolding and ladders, machines and equipment, protectionagainst falling, lighting and electricity, and order and tidiness. The tool makes it possible to obtain a safety index for each safety issue, which was calculated as the percentage of the correct observed safety items related to all the observed safety items. Laitinen and Ruohomaki (1996) implemented the method on two Finnish building construction sites. The safety index rose from the baseline of 60% to 89% at construction site 1 and from the baseline of 67% to 91% at construction site 2. The most visible change was an improvement in order and tidiness. The indexes concerning protection against falling, machine safety, scaffoldings and use of personal protective devices improved to nearly 100%, which should prevent accidents and accidents’ consequences. Laitinen, Marjamäki and Päivärinta (1999) proved the validity of this method in a study carried out on 305 Finnish building construction sites. The safety index was compared with the accident figure of the same sites, and there was a negative significant correlation between the observed safety index and the accident rate of the site groups. The sites with the lowest observed safety index had, on average, an accident rate three times higher than the sites with the highest safety index.

There is also evidence for the effectiveness of safety incentive programs in the construction sector. Goodrum, and Gangwar (2004) developed a study on six US construction companies and found that the companies developing a safety incentive program had lower lost-time incidence rates compared to companies that did not. This study also found that for injury-based or behaviour-based incentive programs, the different time periods for giving the awards and the kinds of awards given made no difference in the effectiveness of the programs. A posterior study identified a certain decrease in the effectiveness of the safety incentive programs sustained in the construction industry over long periods of time. This implies that BBS programs, like any other safety activity, must be periodically reviewed and may need to include new award schemes and readjustments in order to maintain the motivation for worker safety (Gangwar, & Goodrum, 2005).

The BBS methodologies are not the solution for every safety problem; they should be applied under certain conditions, and they also have some limitations that can be improved using expert knowledge in controlled programs (Brown, & Barab, 2007; Meliá, 2007). Nevertheless, as many literature reviews have shown, the BBS programs have demonstrated their ability to reduce the number of accidents and the related costs (Lund, & Aaro, 2004; Goodrum, & Gangwar, 2004; McAfee, & Winn, 1989; Peters, 1991; Peterson, 1989), which justifies the need to increase professional interest in their development.

CONCLUSION

This paper has briefly presented the process, main characteristics and some empirical evidence of effective behaviour-based safety interventions in the construction sector.

This presentation has pursued the diffusion of this type of interventions to the construction prevention services and other safety staff involved in safety working in the Spanish construction sector. The evidence provided by empirical studies proves that safety can be improved by applying these methodologies, even in this difficult industry.

Although most of the empirical evidence has been obtained in other countries, the characteristics of the behaviour-based safety interventions make them suitable to be adapted, applied and tested in the Spanish construction sector.

This purpose of the presentation of the safety behaviour based intervention methods is to stimulate the interest of safety practitioners in the Spanish construction sector in this specific and efficient type of safety interventions, whichcan contribute to reducing the injuries and costs and improve the safety performance in this sector.

ACKNOWLWDGEMENTS

This paper was developed within the CONSTOOLKIT Project, [BIA2007- 61680], which focuses on the development of safety intervention tools for the behavioural factors related to accidents in the construction sector. Financial support was provided by the Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia (España) and The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF - FEDER).

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