You Said, We Did: How to Boost Worker Engagement

12 Jun 2018

Knowing what’s really happening on the shop floor is a vital first step in protecting your workers. But with the construction workforce becoming increasingly diverse and mobile, effectively engaging with workers and subcontractors can be difficult. We spoke to Laura Clifford, a long-standing Health and Safety Advisor at Hawkins Construction and winner of the 2017 Helen Tippett Award for Women in Construction, about making health and safety a two-way conversation, and getting the most of your biggest asset – your workers.

What can we do?

Better health and safety committees:

The construction industry has historically had very low numbers of elected health and safety representatives, and I personally believe that increasing this is something we should encourage, if we want to promote real engagement on health and safety. Some tips I’ve picked up over the years are:

  • These committees need to have real workers attending, not just management or project leaders.
  • Put it in the contract that you expect subbies to attend health and safety committee meetings and find ways to encourage them to attend.
  • Make these meetings valuable to subbies by providing recognition, feedback and rewards.

It’s a two-way street

To get real feedback, you’ll need to show workers that their concerns and ideas are valuable and important. It’s important to show them that what they said counts. This doesn’t mean that they are always right or that the change they suggested has to happen, but that you’ve actually looked at it, thought about it and have responded – it’s about showing that consideration. It needs to be a two-way dialogue and workers need to see that things can actually change. At Hawkins, we call this “you said, we did”.

Get creative

Create ways for workers to provide anonymous feedback which can be monitored by the project lead. We create places for this in the toilets, in the break room and through a mobile app. Remember not everyone wants to talk in an open forum. When you do give bigger Toolbox Talks, try to spread worker reps around the group to listen to the feedback amongst workers. The reps can then feed this information back to the committee.

Know your audience

Think about how best to engage with different types of workers and cultures. Some crews will have an unofficial leader; tap this person on the shoulder and get them on the onsite committee - they have the respect of the other workers and they are not afraid to step up as they are usually natural leaders. Remember that with some groups, it may be better to provide recognition to the whole group, rather than single out workers. Bear in mind it’s not just a language barrier – younger and inexperienced workers often won’t talk at Toolboxes – and you may need to find ways to engage with them in smaller groups. Workers such as labourers, agency workers, migrants, Maori and Pasifika and apprentices, may be reluctant to challenge authority. Those are our most vulnerable workers – those are the ones we aren’t engaging with and are the most likely to get hurt.

Not just Toolbox Talks

Toolbox talks are a great way to start engaging with workers on health and safety. But as our workforce becomes more diverse, particularly on commercial builds, it’s important that we also consider other avenues of engagement. Delivering a Toolbox Talk to a group of say 100 workers, many of whom might be migrants, may not always be the best way of communicating about health and safety. As an industry, we can get better at reaching those people that are on the shop floor - they know what is really happening and the only way we are going to find out is to have great engagement processes.

Do your homework

WorkSafe have put out guidelines on worker engagement, these are a great place to start. There’s also some good case studies available on their website and the Site Safe website, where you can see what other people have done well and what you can adapt for your organisation.

photo of Laura