Safer Highways | Importance of inclusion for Health, Safety and Wellbeing
Harry Wain, Learning and Development Manager for Skanska Infrastructure, addresses the disconnect between Health and Safety and Diversity and Inclusion as disciplines within the sector.
Cultural and behavioural change are at the heart of preparing our industry for the future. At Skanska, we believe that securing a diverse and inclusive working environment is fundamentally linked to the creation of a safe and healthy workforce. We believe that a culture where the richness of ideas, unique perspective and opinions of diverse groups are valued and encouraged, will be the one that promotes positive behaviour around Health Safety and wellbeing.
As an industry, there is currently a disconnect between Health and Safety and Diversity and Inclusion as disciplines. We seek to empower people to take personal responsibility for safety through programmes such as Skanska’s Injury-Free Environment. However, do we really understand how diversity and inclusion is impacting performance then truly address this?
Diversity and Inclusion is prominent topic currently, particularly in response to the #MeToo movement and alike. It is undeniable that in places we are a very diverse sector, CIOB data published in 2015 places 10% of the UK construction workforce coming from outside the UK.
Whilst improvement in controls and processes, particularly around verbal communication and language, will go a long way to mitigating risk in this area, it is cultural change around inclusive behaviours that will deliver the biggest impact. Only by understanding the cultural context which others see health, safety and wellbeing can we respond appropriately to control risk.
We can already see the negative impact that un-inclusivity can play when it comes to gender. We know that gender diversity in our sector is something that needs addressing, behaviours and norms drawn from masculine identifiers remain prevalent. These can manifest as a need to demonstrate toughness, physical strength and self-reliance. But also an unwillingness to show vulnerability, born out in the number of male suicides within the construction industry. It can have significant implications for safety when those gender norms begin to influence an individual’s willingness to take and accept risk.
A lack of inclusivity can ultimately lead to people having different experiences of the workplace. For example, the experience of a native speaker compared to someone with no language skills is going to be very different, it is going to fundamentally effect your ability to understand basic instruction on safety.
Hierarchy is an important aspect of construction, it establishes a system of control and accountability, however, hierarchies begin to emerge as a result of these gaps in experience, because it can places one person’s status over another. As soon as we assign status to people based on their difference, we are at risk of attributing value and worth to individuals contribution based on that difference, for example migrant workers are worth less than native born workers, or a subcontractor is lower skill and lower ability than someone working for the main contractor.
Fundamentally this is creating an “us and them” culture.
In starker terms, we are creating an environment where an individuals or a group’s life or safety is deemed not as important as another because they are different. As an industry we need to understand more about how those gaps in experience of diverse groups are impacting our industry wide accident incident rate.
At a fundamental level, if we are not closing those gaps between groups and their experience, it is going to be impossible to build an inclusive culture. Inclusiveness in this context not only allows them to leverage the benefits of a diverse workforce for their business, but will also drive safety performance as well.
For Skanska, Inclusivity is the key component in creating a safety culture where, through an equality of voice, everyone within their organization and working on their projects feels enabled and empowered to speak out on health, safety and wellbeing but crucially will take personal responsibility not only for their own safety but for the safety of those around them.