Devising a safety leadership framework in construction

Reducing lost time injuries (LTIs) has been the focus for many years. The next wave of safety is taking hold in many industries and requires a shift of thinking from its leaders.

Safety Dimensions (a division of the Learning Dimensions Network) has specialised in equipping leaders and leadership teams with the leadership and influencing skills required (from managing director to leading hand) in the safety arena. Safety Dimensions has used this approach similar to a ?Trojan horse? to build effective cultures that have not only decreased LTIs ? in many cases by over 60 per cent and savings in the millions of dollars ? but also increased productivity, and established leaders who create sustainable business outcomes.

This approach sets out to achieve the following:
? Ensure leaders are clear about what they are accountable for and how to discharge their duty, both legal and moral.
? Determine how risks are being managed, and that they are controlled effectively in all areas by those who have responsibility for this (identify the gaps in current process and the ways to improve).
? Continually set high standards, plus monitor and review how these are being implemented in a way that best ensures that all incidents can be prevented (personal visible safety actions planned).
? Confront risk. Use safety conversations and gain commitment for new behaviour so that the required standard is maintained even when no one is watching (conversations that shift the mind set, not just the behaviour).
? Influence and challenge on current norms where risk still exists, and involve others who are likely to be affected by the risk in decision making to avoid creating unsafe conditions (get comfortable and confident in addressing all types of people).
? Create a place where bad news/near misses and human factors are openly discussed and patterns are identified and worked with to avoid a potential injury (proactive lead indicators ? informed leaders).
The goal of each of these steps is to have all workers see more potential and actual risk/hazards and then to say more to each other, and their leaders about them. They can then solve issues together or create improvements, continuously learning and improving safety outcomes and goals.



In the construction industry, a large scale research project with a whole industry focus was undertaken, reviewing how best to create and sustain an effective safety culture. The focus of this research took a very logical path:
1. To identify critical safety roles ? from leading hand to managing director.
2. To determine what skills, knowledge and behaviours each needed in their roles.
3. To link these identified tangible skills to the desired cultural outcomes.

This research was conducted by the Cooperative Research Centre for Construction Innovation that consisted of industry leaders, university-led researchers and was sponsored by Government Departments. For a download of the easy to read booklet, visit (then click on the ?Publications? link) or contact Safety Dimensions to purchase a hard copy for $66 (including GST).

The project leader was Dean Cipolla, the general manager of safety for John Holland Group, and included representatives from over 20 construction companies.

From this research, the John Holland Group used the framework to create a Certificate IV qualification called 21748VIC Certificate in Safety Leadership (OHS) ? Construction. This is a national competency based framework developed for leaders in construction and related industries, with the focus being about what each leader needs to be skilled in. It is not intended as safety professional course.

Together with Safety Dimensions, John Holland designed a comprehensive leadership framework and associated training courses for not only the skills and competencies required to attain Certificate IV level, but also strongly linked to the desired cultural and behavioural focus on ?What does good look like in this industry??

The new behaviours required of leaders also involves a shift in the mind set and beliefs required to manage people and the desired underpinning systems/controls. The focus of this Certificate IV program is about sustainable behavioural change, and leadership skills ? not only for the ?workers? each leader is directly responsible for, but also the leaders at all levels in developing their self-awareness and understanding on how their own behaviours and communication (and decision making) leads to a safer culture. Most leaders in the construction industry are passionate and clearly hold a no harm standard. The challenge has been how to demonstrate and ensure that this vision is enacted by the whole group/project.

A sample matrix of the training modules designed (see Figure 1) was created to build upon the leadership skills developed in a foundation program and applied to industry specific tasks such as toolbox talks, risk management (from front line supervisor to designer, estimator and project engineers), incident investigation (including near misses), observation and inspection, return to work, and other site related tasks such as audit, conducting health and safety committees, and enhancing current systems/procedures.

Each unit is focused on the cultural outcomes and the standard of leadership in how to:
1. Create and set a high standard.
2. Communicate effectively ? both prior to and during construction using two-way interactive ?conversations that develop problem solving and ownership? (ie influence and involve others).
3. Determine and manage risk proactively and effectively at each stage of construction (ie from tender to demobilisation) and proactively confront past or undesired work practices.
4. Discover why someone is not following the desired standard or procedure (behavioural/human factors – leadership).
5. Create a fair and just culture of consequences (both positive and negative), in effect culture creation.
6. Sustain the culture by constant improvements and focus.

Due to the nature of work in the construction industry (ie project style and often short term), it is one of the hardest industries in which to manage safety sustainably. High reliance on non-company employees (ie sub-contractors) and the wide variety of skills/risks associated with each industry type within this field makes it one of the most changing and uncertain work environments.

Safety leadership is required constantly and consistently to enable people who move from job to job to achieve and continue to maintain the highest standards. This program, ending with a Certificate IV, is a significant tool that will help achieve this.

In the words of Dean Cipolla, the group safety manager at John Holland Group:
?In this industry, we need to let people know what they are required to do, to what standard, and how to achieve this. We don?t want a lot of fancy paperwork ? we need easy to use tools and ways to use them ? so everyone can apply them right across the industry.?

At a recent conference WorkSafe Victoria?s acting executive director for health and safety Stan Krpan stated:
?WorkSafe is encouraging … businesses to establish OHS management systems that take into account all the layers of management in that business – from director level down. OHS management systems should be worked into businesses? wider strategic plans.?

There are currently over 5000 construction leaders who have begun the Certificate IV program from small companies of 12 people to large Tier One groups who currently have 2000 leaders enrolled. The target audience often starts with primarily supervisors but most organisations have seen the wisdom of starting with the senior leadership ? both at corporate level and the larger alliance and project based leadership groups. Expertise from Safety Dimensions has enabled many groups to shift their culture from operational focus to one where safety is becoming part of the way leaders and front line staff operate everyday, some even taking the message into their lives for a full 24/7 change in the way they think, act, and behave all day, and increase their ability to influence others (including up and to their peers) to ensure safe thinking, decisions and actions.

For further information about how to develop your overall safety culture, and enable your leaders to become qualified to a national Certificate IV Safety Leadership ? OHS (or, if you would like to know how you can do this through your own RTO), visit

Louise Quinn is the managing partner and principal partner of Safety Dimensions, which specialises in improving safety performance in the workplace through safety leadership and culture change.

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