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Course 833 - Developing a Construction Safety Management System

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Setting the Foundation

Accident weed
Culture is the foundation of an effective CSMS.

In this course we will first discuss the necessity of building a firm foundation for a world-class CSMS. No matter how well you may have developed and deployed the CSMS; it is destined to fail unless the underlying foundation is an effective safety culture that expresses real management commitment, tough-caring leadership, and genuine employee involvement. This module will explore some of the important considerations to do that.


The traditional definition of "safety culture" in an organization is, "an organizational atmosphere where safety and health is understood to be, and is accepted as, the number one priority." However, as we'll learn, to be most effective, safety should not be considered a "priority," but rather a "core value." So we still need to ask: "What is a safety culture?"

Culture may be defined as the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies, and patterns of behavior that determine the commitment to, and proficiency of, an organization's health and safety management.

A strong safety culture is the result of:

  • Positive workplace attitudes - from the president to the newest hire.
  • Involvement and buy-in of all members of the workforce.
  • Mutual, meaningful, and measurable safety and health improvement goals.
  • Policies and procedures that serve as reference tools, rather than obscure rules.
  • Personnel training at all levels within the organization.
  • Responsibility and accountability throughout the organization.

From the employer's point of view, it's something to be managed, but if you ask an employee to define culture, they will likely tell you it's just "the way we do things are around here."

You will know when your company has designed the elements of a world-class safety culture when:

  • All individuals within the organization believe they have a right to a safe and healthful workplace.
  • Each person accepts personal responsibility for ensuring his or her own safety and health.
  • Everyone believes he or she has a duty to protect the safety and health of others.
  • A high level of trust exists between management and labor in general.

Safety Leadership Styles

Effective Leadership
Effective leadership is other-centered.

Effective safety leadership can and should be demonstrated at all organizational levels.

  • Managers can demonstrate leadership by setting the proper example, displaying real commitment, and developing an effective CSMS.
  • Supervisors demonstrate leadership by directly providing employees the necessary resources, psychosocial support, training, and by setting a good personal example.
  • Employees demonstrate leadership through personal example and involvement. They do the right thing when not being supervised.

Three Primary Styles

Managers, supervisors, and employees generally use one or a mix of three leadership styles: Tough-coercive, Tough-controlling, or Tough-caring. As you'll see, tough-caring leadership is the most effective leadership style.

Tough-coercive Leadership

Managers are tough on safety to protect themselves. In this approach, the manager controls performance by yelling and using the threat of punishment. The manager is tough on safety only to achieve compliance to fulfill legal obligations through the use of fear. By definition, the use of fear cannot be effective in achieving world-class safety because employees perform only to the level that avoids punishment. Fear may be successful in achieving compliance, but that's it.

Tough-controlling Leadership

Managers are tough on safety to control production. They have high standards for behavior and performance, and they control all aspects of work to ensure compliance. This is most often considered the "traditional" approach to safety leadership. Leaders using this approach may be more successful, but employees usually do not perceive them as real leaders. Managers believe tight control is necessary to achieve production goals. Communication is typically top-down and information is used to control. Unfortunately, a safety manager is typically hired to act as a safety "cop" rather than an internal consultant.

Tough-caring Leadership

Managers and supervisors are tough on safety because they care about the safety of their employees. Managers understand that complying with the law, controlling losses, and improving production can best be assured if employees are motivated, safe, and able. Managers also understand that they can best fulfill their commitment to their external customers by fulfilling their obligations to internal customers: their employees. Safety managers are hired as internal consultants rather than cops.

You can learn more about leadership styles in Course 700, Introduction to Safety Management.

5-STAR Leadership

Accident weed
Effective leadership fulfills each of these obligations.

Below are the five key elements that help managers and supervisors demonstrate commitment through "5-STAR" leadership. The key 5-STAR leadership elements are:

  1. Supervision - overseeing work activities to make sure employees are safe.
  2. Training - conducting safety education and training.
  3. Accountability - insisting everyone complies with company safety policies and rules.
  4. Resources - providing physical resources - tools, equipment, materials, etc. so employees can work safely.
  5. Support - creating a sound psychological environment - schedules, workloads, recognition, etc. so employees do not work under harmful stress.

You can learn more about this topic in Course 712.

Proactive vs. Reactive Safety Leadership

Integrating safety and health concerns into everyday work allows for a proactive approach to safety. In a proactive approach, hazards and unsafe behaviors are addressed before an injury or illness occurs. In a reactive safety culture, safety is not a problem until after an injury or accident occurs.

Value vs. Priority

Safety must be elevated so that it is considered a critical value as opposed to something that must be done or accomplished as priorities allow. How can you tell when safety is a value vs. a priority on the worksite? Simple: Values don't change; priorities do, especially when the going gets tough.


Accident weed
There is a difference between support and commitment.

Before you set out to create the world's best CSMS, make sure that top management in your organization fully supports and has made a real commitment to your effort. But, what is the difference between "support" and "commitment?"

  • Support occurs when management tells everyone they back up your efforts and insists that everyone else give their full support as well.
  • Commitment occurs when management not only backs you up with words, they back you up with action in terms of time and money.

Top management may communicate their support for safety, but the real test for commitment is the degree to which management acts on their words with serious investments in time and money. When management merely communicates their interest in safety, but does not follow through with action, they are expressing only support, not commitment.

Getting Top Management Commitment

Managers may feel a social, fiscal, or legal obligation to create a safe work environment.
What motivates management to do safety?

So, what is the secret in getting top management commitment to safety? The answer to that question is that management commitment will occur to the extent each employer clearly understands the positive benefits to their own success as well as to the success of the company.

Most employers will put time and money into employee safety when they understand the benefits in terms of how their commitment helps to fulfill their social, fiscal and/or legal obligations as an employer. Therefore, you should stress the benefits to your employer when meeting each of the three obligations. Let's take a look:

Social Obligation

Get management to come to the realization that long-term corporate survival depends on being a good "corporate citizen" in the community by doing whatever it takes to keep employees safe and healthful at work. By the way, fulfilling this obligation is most effective in assuring the long term success for the company.

Financial Obligation

Stressing this obligation can be quite effective. Managers will be motivated to invest in safety when they understand the financial benefits derived from effective application of safety programs. Emphasize the cost vs. benefits of safety.

Legal Obligation

Place a lot of emphasis on this obligation when managers only want to fulfill the obligation to comply with OSHA rules. You need to be familiar with how OSHA works be sure to understand the OSHA enforcement process.


Recognition is key.
Recognition is the key to involvement.

In a world-class safety culture, all employees are given opportunities to provide suggestions and recommendations on safety policies and rules, products, procedures, and training. For example, employees:

  • are given some responsibility to test out products or conduct research to substantiate recommendations
  • provide input informally or through the formal suggestion program.
  • participate in a variety of ways such as being a trainer, member of a safety committee, or inspection team member.

Understanding the benefits will create a strong desire to improve the company's safety culture which is ultimately the most important outcome of an effective CSMS.

The Key: Effective Recognition

The key to a world-class safety culture that is characterized by employee involvement in safety is "perception." What they believe about the company, management, and themselves is critical to a successful CSMS.

Recognition as a positive consequence can be quite effective in dramatically increasing daily involvement in safety. After all, we do what we do to either avoid negative consequences or to obtain positive consequences. Recognition helps ensure employees focus on positive consequences. Make sure employees are recognized every time they make a suggestion that improves the CSMS. For more information on effective recognition, see OSHAcademy Course 117, Introduction to Effective Recognition Programs.

The Construction Safety Committee (CSC)

Recognition is key.
Get everyone involved in the safety committee.

Because construction is such a hazardous industry, most employers understand the importance of a strong safety committee. This is one of the most important safety teams within the CSMS and a very important part of employee involvement.

At least annually the CSC can develop its own strategic plan with written safety goals and objectives, and the tactics to achieve them. Monthly tracking of progress is also important. The safety goals and objective should be communicated to all employees.

Membership on your company's CSC should include both management and hourly employees. Members should be elected, appointed and/or volunteers and should serve on the committee for at least a year or other specified amount of time.

You can learn more about the importance of the CSC by taking Courses OSHAcademy courses 701, Effective OSH Committee Operations and 707, Effective OSH Committee Meetings.

Safety Inspections

Another important way employees are involved in safety is to participate in regular walk-around safety inspections to help identify potentially hazardous conditions, unsafe actions, and initiate corrective actions. Inspection findings should be presented to the decision-maker and copies of the findings should be sent to supervisors and the safety committee for review.

Corrective actions should be approved by the decision-maker and implemented under the direction of a designated line worksite superintendent, manager, or supervisor.

Suggestion Programs

Recognition is key.
Here's a suggestion: Don't use a box.

Employee involvement is crucial to the company's success, so they should be encouraged to make safety suggestions to help improve the CSMS. Suggestions include ways to improve:

  • materials, equipment, tools, machinery, and the work environment, and
  • safety policies, programs, plans, processes, procedures, and practices.

In some companies, suggestions are given to the safety committee to handle. In world-class safety cultures, where trust between labor and management is high, employees give suggestions directly to their supervisors. In either case, the most effective method should be the one that's used.

Stay away from using suggestion boxes

Suggestion forms may be used in a formal suggestion box program, however, we do not encourage a policy that allows anonymous suggestions unless management demonstrates tough-caring leadership. Also, if management allows anonymous suggestions, the subtle message to employees may be that their concerns about suffering negative consequences when suggestions are submitted may be valid. The fear of retribution and a lack of trust between labor and management is common in fear-based safety cultures.

Here's an example of what can happen using the a formal safety suggestion box method in a culture suffering from a low level of trust.

Real World Example

I set up a new suggestion box at my last office. Employees were informed it was there to use for any suggestions they may have. I would check it once a day and they could either sign their suggestion or not. All suggestions would be looked into and [the] person making the suggestion would be advised of the outcome within (5) days or, if the suggestion was unsigned, the outcome would be announced at our next safety meeting.

Because of the feeling it was all a big joke and no one really cared, only one person in 12 months made a suggestion. I handled it just as I said I would. If the employee's suggestion was such that I could fix it without getting approval, I did so. Didn't seem to encourage others. The real problem was they had heard it all before and just didn't believe anymore.

As the example above illustrates, a formal safety suggestion program only works within a framework of strong leadership: Management gives each suggestion attention, responds, and thanks the employee making the suggestion. In the best-case scenario where there is the presence of strong tough-caring safety leadership, a formal program may not be needed because leaders respond immediately to suggestions and provide meaningful informal one-on-one recognition.


Watch this excellent short Teck Resources video discussing what Courageous Safety Leadership looks like.


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. From the employee's point of view, culture is _____.

2. Employees should be given an opportunity to provide input on which of the following topics?

3. When should employees be recognized for making safety suggestions?

4. In this leadership approach, managers are tough on safety to protect employees.

5. Which of the following is the key to a high level of employee involvement in safety?

Have a safe day!

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

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