Providing a model for implementing and promoting safety culture in project-oriented construction organizations in order to reduce the risks of the construction industry

Document Type : Applied Article


1 PhD Student in Project Management and Construction, School of Architecture-College of Fine Arts, University of Tehran, Iran

2 Post-doctorate, executive management, France, Professor, Pars University of Art and Architecture (ORCID NO. 0000-0002-9619-1993)


Accidents not only cause serious losses but are also a detrimental influence on society. Hence, safety is one of the critical problems facing the sustainable, rapid, and healthy development of the national economy and social stability [21]. Construction-related accidents not only result in workers’ deaths and injuries but also cause financial losses due to delays in projects, damage to machinery, and harm to firms’ reputation [13]. The almost declining accident rate indicates that safety development has had a significant impact on safety performance in the manufacturing industry. However, in recent years, it seems that this progress has reached a steady state and the industry is facing difficulties in achieving further progress [9, 16]. The construction sector has a large contribution to the economy [14] and is known as a hazardous industry worldwide [15]. Construction industry has one of the highest rates of fatalities and injuries compared to other industries, despite technological advancements and implementations of occupational health and safety initiatives [2]. According to the reports, construction industry has the highest accident rates of all industries, and is the site of the most serious accidents in terms of severity of injuries [11]. Construction safety has always been a major issue and has a reputation as the most dangerous sector with increased rates of accidents and deaths compared to other sectors [12]. In the USA, around 21.1% of fatal accidents occur in the construction industry [20], which only has 8.5% of the country’s total employment [17]. In the UK, fatalities in the construction industry in 2017 were higher than the average of fatalities in all industries [10]. In Singapore, around 29% of the workforce is in the construction industry but 40% of occupational accidents occur in this industry [6].
Over the past few years, the role that safety culture or safety climate plays in shaping safe environments has been increasingly recognized by organizations in high-risk industries. Many high reliability industries around the world has been showing an interest in the concept of ‘safety culture’, as a way of reducing the potential for large-scale disasters [8].
The International Atomic Energy Agency first used the term safety culture during the investigation of the Chernobyl accident, which was attributed to a weak safety culture [7].
According to Cooper, safety culture is a subset of organizational culture that affects the attitude and behavior related to the safety of members of the organization. The commonality in the numerous definitions is that they can all be grouped into normative beliefs perspective, as far as each is focused on different degrees on the way people think and/or behave in relation to safety [18].
The UK Health and Safety Commission defines safety culture as: the safety culture of an organization is the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies and patterns of behavior that determines the commitment, style and skill, health of the organization and safety management. Safety culture refers to the core beliefs and values of a group of people regarding risk and safety [4]. Improving attitudes and creating new beliefs and behaviors in the mind can greatly reduce the damage and increase safety [1].
construction safety culture
Construction safety culture can be defined as an assembly of individual and group beliefs, norms, attitudes and technical practices that are concerned with minimizing safety risks and exposure of workers and the public to unsafe acts and conditions in the construction environment [22]. According to the main features of construction projects such as management activity, construction process, temporary project team, environmental issues and site management activity, construction project safety culture should be different from the organization safety culture in terms of scope and components. The construction project safety culture is defined as a combination of attitudes, beliefs, values, behaviors and norms of individuals and groups from different parts of the construction project team (both workers and management) and is gradually formed in the construction project environment and develops, which affects the commitment, style and efficiency of how all departments and individuals in the project behave and react, in terms of existing safety performance. The construction safety culture is born with the creation of the project team and usually develops gradually through inputs from the three sections of trends, beliefs, values and behaviors from the perspective of management and the workforce [5]. Figure 1 shows the construction safety culture model.
Fig. 1. Model of construction safety culture [1]
building a safety culture
Any process that brings together all levels within an organization with a view to working together to achieve a common goal that everyone holds in high value will strengthen the organizational culture. Health and safety at work is a unique area of management activity that can achieve this end [19].
The process of building a safety culture incorporates many elements. Some of the more important elements are outlined below [19].

Obtaining senior management commitment. This is the fundamental first step in the exercise and may involve a presentation at a board meeting to obtain their approval and commitment. They must be advised of the need for change and their support for such change. It may be appropriate to give an indication of current direct and indirect costs to the organization associated with, emphasizing the fact that the reduction in these costs should more than pay for the changes required. This requires a commitment from senior management on an ongoing basis.
Building trust. To accept change, people need to have trust. Trust will occur and increase as different levels within the organization work together and begin to see success.
Self-assessments or benchmarking techniques. The person running the scheme, such as a health and safety practitioner will need to keep track, through self-assessment and techniques like benchmarking, to ensure he is being effective in stimulating progress by managers.
Management training. All levels of management, employee representatives, health and safety committee members and employees will need some level of training, not only in areas such as hazard recognition, legal requirements and safety procedures, but also in communication and team building.
Steering committee. A Health and Safety Steering Committee, initially chaired by a director or senior manager, and comprising management, employee representatives and specialists, such as a chief engineer, should be established. The senior health and safety specialist should act as secretary and organize the committee. This committee will provide guidance and direction and avoid duplication of effort. Fundamentally, the committee should have specific authority to get things done.
A shared vision. This is one of the most important features of a safety culture where everyone in the organization shares the same ambitions and feelings about the need to improve safety performance by following the policies, procedures and systems being promoted.
Role definition. The role and function of everyone from the top of the organization downwards should be defined and specified.
Accountability. A system identifying individual accountability for health and safety should be introduced. This may incorporate job safety specifications for different groups of workers. Specific groups may need training to meet the requirements of job safety specifications.
Feedback. As with any system designed to bring about change, there must be feedback which gives a clear indication as to how change is proceeding. Feedback should not necessarily take the form of reduced accident and sickness rates as these are not a true measure of performance and are open to manipulation.
Policies for recognition. Recognition of success by departments, sections and by individuals should feature strongly in the process. Success in achieving health- and safety-related objectives should receive publicity within the organization and recognized by the awarding of trophies at ceremonies laid on for this purpose. The public recognition of high standards of health and safety through the establishment of awards adds credence to the whole process.
Awareness training and commencement. Everyone should be trained in the purpose of the programme, health and safety awareness and the means for measuring performance. The commencement of the scheme should receive high levels of publicity seeking the commitment of everyone to the improvements.
Process changes. Recommended changes arising from the various activities involved should be implemented promptly. Failure to do so results in loss of credibility of the scheme.
Performance measurement. There should be continual measurement of performance and reporting back to the steering committee.
Communicating the results. Results should be communicated through posters, notice boards and newsletters: progress reports should be discussed at departmental meetings.
Reinforcement and reassessment. As with any scheme, there is a need for regular reinforcement, feedback, corrections to the system and reassessment of specific features.

Materials and methods
The information of this research can be seen in the following table:
Table 1. Research information

Qualitatively- Applied

research type

Grounded theory

Research Method


research model

Library studies- semi-structured interview.

Data collection tools

Interviews with consulting companies and contractors

Research population

Construction project based organizations

Research area



The main data collection tools in this study are:

Library studies;
semi-structured interview.

In this research, semi-structured interview method is used. In this research, experts were interviewed with different positions (CEO, Project Manager, Safety Manager, Contractor) in order to extract the desired challenges from different perspectives.
Table 2. Semi-structured interview questions [author].

1- In your opinion, what indicators are needed to achieve safety culture in order to achieve performance excellence in safety?

2- Do you consider the development of a safety strategy as a necessary indicator of a safety culture? If yes, what components do you think the organization needs to create a safety strategy?

3- Do you consider the assessment of the existing safety culture of the organization necessary to promote the safety culture? If yes, what tools and methods can be used to make this assessment?

4- Do you think a clarity is effective in advancing the goals of a safety culture? If yes, how can this be achieved?

5- In your opinion, does the path of safety culture pass through the safety climate? If yes, how can a proper safety climate be created in the organization?
6- In your opinion, what factors affect the safety climate in the organization?

7- What are the appropriate elements to maximize the true potential of a safety culture for excellence in the organization?

8- Do you think that identifying, prioritizing, and addressing safety challenges play a role in developing a safety culture? If yes, how can it be controlled?

9- How can continuous improvement in safety culture be achieved?

Research data
Indicators and sub-indicators affecting the safety culture extracted from the literature and interview are:
Table 3. Cultural safety indicators and sub-indicators [Author].

Indicators extracted from the interview

Indicators extracted from the literature


1-                   Development of safety strategy


Core values
Long and Short-Term goals

Safety Excellence Accountability system
Identify and enable change agents
Continuous Improvement


2-                   Assessment of existing safety culture of the organization

Safety Data Analysis
Evaluation of Existing Safety Initiatives



3-                   Clear understanding of safety (Clarity)

safety excellence team clarity workshop
safety excellence team structure

safety excellence team strategy briefing
steps employee briefing(s)



4-                   Safety climate




5-                   Create the right safety structure and composition (chemistry)

proactive accountability
Trust (The Bonding Agent)



6-                   Control

targeting safety improvement
taking a safety-improvement step
converting BBS to STEPS



7-                   Continuous improvement

multilevel support

new-employee orientation to STEPS
ongoing safety-improvement STEPS
focus, influence, listen , measure for a cultural snapshot

succession plan for safety excellence team
professional development


Discus and Results
The most comprehensive way to move forward in order to achieve a safety culture is to learn steps called strategic target for excellent performance in safety (Figure 2).
If leaders decide to go with the steps (strategic target for excellent performance in safety), they must move forward. Each set of steps leads to an organizational milestone. In the following, will see the model proposed for implementing and promoting a safety culture for excellence (Figure 3).


Fig. 2. Milestones in the path of the steps [author]

Step 7
7.1     ongoing safety improvement steps
7.2     focus, influence, listen , measure for a cultural snapshot
7.3     multilevel support
7.4     succession plan for safety excellence team
7.5     new employee orientation to steps
7.6     professional development
7.7     reassessment

Step 5
5.1   passion
5.2   focus
5.3   expectations
5.4   proactive accountability
5.5   reinforcement
5.6   vulnerability
5.7   communication
5.8   measurement
5.9   trust

Step 4
4.1   commitment
4.2   caring
4.3   cooperation
4.4   coaching 

Step 1
1.1       purpose
1.2       core values
1.3       vision
1.4       long and short term goals
1.5       objectives
1.6       marketing
1.7       initiatives
1.8       safety excellence accountability system
1.9       identify and enable change agents
1.10     measure/adjust
1.11     continuous improvement

Step 6
6.1   targeting safety improvement
6.2   taking a safety improvement step
6.3   converting BBS to STEPS
6.4   motivation

Step 2
2.1   evaluation of existing    safety initiatives
2.2   perceptions
2.3   interviews
2.4   Safety data analysis

Step 3
3.1   safety excellence team structure
3.2   safety excellence team strategy briefing
3.3   safety excellence team clarity workshop
3.4   employee briefing 

Fig. 3. Safety culture promotion model [author]
Proposed executive solutions to improve the level of safety culture in construction project-oriented companies
Have a safety strategy. It is impossible to set a strategic target if you do not have a strategy. Most organizations, frankly, do not have a safety strategy. They have goals, wishes, programs, and metrics, but all these do not really have a framework that brings them together. An effective strategy can help focus on the right, measurable goals of achieving excellence rather than avoiding failure.
Objectives of Step 1:

To move from avoiding failure to achieving success
To include excellence in the safety vocabulary
To align all safety activities around an overarching strategy
To provide a clear and repeatable direction toward success
To align and motivate workplace behaviors to accomplish the strategic goals

Methods of developing a safety strategy:

A leadership training and workshop or multiple workshops to develop a Safety Strategy

Perform an assessment of your starting place.Determine what kind of safety culture you already have, what strengths can be utilized, and what additional capabilities it needs to improve. Understand your starting point and use it as a baseline to measure further improvement.
Objectives of Step 2:

To understand and appreciate the current status of your safety culture
To determine what is currently influencing the culture
To evaluate existing safety teams or committees for possible use in STEPS
To evaluate existing safety programs for possible improvements
To establish a baseline for measuring progress

Methods of assessing:

Evaluation of existing safety programs
Perception survey
Interviews with individuals and focus groups
Pareto analysis of safety data

1. Create clarity of purpose.Deploy your safety strategy, organize and train the members of the culture at every level in the strategy to learn the basic definitions of safety and the improvements needed. Especially teach the culture the basic skill of targeting and accomplishing what we call STEPS. Share the rationale for improvement, how the organization will benefit. Structure a safety excellence team to steer the organization through the STEPS.
Objectives of Step 3:

To designate or establish a safety excellence team to steer the STEPS process
To set clear expectations about the what and how and why of STEPS
To align thinking about safety (get everyone on the same page)
To define crucial terminology and methodology
To begin to market the safety-excellence journey

Methods of clarity:

Evaluation of existing safety committee and/or formulation of a new one
Workforce briefing

1. Create the right safety climate. Create or improve the organizational climate in which a safety culture can grow into its personal best.
Objectives of Step 4:

To create a commitment to safety excellence
To drive the safety efforts by caring about each other
To establish a basis and encouragement for cooperative efforts among the various levels
To establish coaching as the method of helping each other to improve performance
To train everyone in the skills of coaching safety
To create an environment conducive to growing an excellent safety culture

Methods of creating a safety climate:

Safety excellence team workshop
Declaring commitment to safety excellence
Changing the aim of safety from statistics to people
Creating forums and communication tools to encourage cooperation

1. Create the right safety chemistry. Make sure that the culture has the elements necessary for safety excellence growth and that these elements are renewed as they are utilized.
Objectives of Step 5:

To convince everyone that accidents can happen to them
To set realistic expectations about how to get to excellence
To teach the culture how to focus on the right issues and to prioritize them
To make sure that the desired actions are positively reinforced
To improve the model and media of safety communications
To develop a strategy for motivating the journey to safety excellence

Methods of creating a safety chemistry:


1. Create the control to address the issues of conditions and common practice that impact safety. Prioritize and address your safety issues one at a time.
Objectives of Step 6:

To enhance the culture’s ability to identify risks
To enhance the culture’s ability to prioritize risks for maximum effectiveness
To teach the safety excellence team to develop action plans to address risks
To help the safety excellence team to communicate ongoing action plans
To help the safety excellence team to communicate progress toward success of action plans
To align behavior-based safety (BBS) with STEPS
To align safety motivational strategies with the success of action plans

Methods of control:

Accident-investigation data analysis
Pareto analysis
Developing action plans
Communicating action plan details and progress metrics

1. Your safety culture can now continuously improve safety. Reassess, measure, and adjust-recognize progress and barriers and react appropriately and flexibly to meet the changing needs.
Objectives of Step 7:

To set clear expectations about continuous improvement, STEP by STEP
To align levels of the organization in support activities
To establish a rotation plan for the safety excellence team
To establish a new-employee orientation to STEPS
To identify professional development activities for the safety excellence team and cultural leaders
To provide guidelines for execution of the safety strategy
To recommend ongoing assessments to identify improvement opportunities

Methods of continuously improve:

Action plans to address problems or opportunities to improve
Attending events or obtaining professional development materials

Plan your organization for the real movement in the direction of safety culture. It helps to have the entire roadmap in your mind before you begin. It also helps to fully appreciate what will be required as you prepare to inform others and to help them make the commitment to pursue safety culture excellence.
The order in which we have arranged the STEPS has come from a lot of experience. If you are planning to visit each step, please do so in order. As you move to a new STEP, please assess your status in that area of performance. Skip over any STEPS that you have already addressed and simply review them to see if you find ideas to further improve.
Remember that this model is not a complete formula; it is more of a framework from which to make strategic decisions. Organizations are so unique that no formula for improvement is universally applicable. The closest to a universal truth is the fact that the more you customize this process to your organization, the better it will work. Also, as you assess where your current safety performance is weak and where it needs help, do not forget to look for your strengths and build upon them.


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