Evaluating the impact of leadership on Safety Culture within a construction project; a Quasi-organisation

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Shelley Stiles, University of Nottingham

Safety culture is a widely discussed topic, commonly related to improving safety performance within an occupational environment. Whilst there is considerable research on the characteristics of positive and negative safety cultures, research to date does not consider how the interfaces and relationships between different organisations, for example, in the supply chain for construction projects, impact on safety culture of a particular construction project as a whole. The UK Construction Industry has a workforce of over two million people working across approximately 200,000 firms (DTI 2006). The majority (almost 90%) are small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) employing less than 10 people. The Construction Industry is governed by the arrangements defined within Construction Design and Management Regulations 2015 which place specific duties on organisations involved in construction activities and also outline the responsibilities of these organisations at different levels in the supply chain for project delivery and the management of safety. The interfaces and relationships between organisations are of particular interest when work is carried out on a project; co-ordinated via contractual obligations, for a determined period of time forming a quasi-organisation.

Through the identification of Principal Contractors as leaders of project delivery, a common project organisation structure is developed – referred to as ‘Project Delivery Organisation’. The structure of a Project Delivery Organisation may impact on safety culture for various reasons: the power relationship (where strength lies with Principal Contractor); contractual impacts (where SMEs may be selected largely based on price); a lack of management commitment, communication and engagement; a lack of clarity of roles and responsibilities for safety; limited access to health and safety resources and formal training within SMEs. With recognition of a multitude of factors that can influence safety culture, it is necessary to evaluate the structure and functioning of typical construction projects to understand the impact on overall safety performance.

This paper outlines a study to evaluate safety culture within quasi-organisations – ‘Projects’ or Project Delivery Organisations. A method has been developed and applied to assess the factors that influence safety culture in a construction project, to understand how this might impact on safety performance for the project. Assessments have been made for six construction projects (with a value of £2 to £21 million), collecting and analysing data from all levels of the Project Delivery Organisation (Principal Contractor and Supply Chain) at predetermined intervals. Findings will be presented on the following: the nature of safety leadership activities; the type of safety support that is provided by the principal contractor and sub-contractor organisations; workers’ perceptions of safety leadership activities; examples of safety leadership interventions; and the impacts of various influencing factors on safety culture and performance in the project.

This study also explores a common view in the industry, in which Principal Contractors are thought to have a more mature safety culture than others in the Supply Chain. The potential implications of this for the Project and implementing safety improvement programmes are examined.

Date & time

7-8 June 2016

NCTL Learning and Conference Centre, Nottingham

What is a Complex System?

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