Factors Affecting Safety Performance of Construction Workers


Factors Affecting Safety Performance of Construction Workers


Safety is a critical issue in the construction industry. Although it has been broadly researched from many perspectives, continuous improvement in safety performance is now facing challenges. A safety plateau or the stagnating improvement in safety performance has been observed in many countries or regions. So the question is: how can the industry continuously improve safety performance? The key is to identifying factors that affect safety performance.

There are many factors affecting safety performance in the construction industry, mainly including individual factors (e.g. age and work experience) and organizational factors (e.g. technical and economic factors) (Sawacha et al. 1999). This research investigated the impact of two organizational factors and two individual factors on the safety outcomes of construction workers (Figure 1). The two organizational factors are: safety climate and organizational resilience. The two individual factors are individual resilience (IR) and interpersonal conflicts at work (ICW). The hierarchy of safety performance terminology used herein is provided in Figure 2.

Figure 1. Factors affecting safety performance
  • Safety climate: the shared perception of people toward safety in their work environment (Zohar 1980).
  • Organizational resilience: a capacity for positive response and healing capabilities to maintain normal operations and a high level of safety during stress and disturbance (Bruyelle et al. 2014; Ross et al. 2014).
  • Individual resilience: people’s proactive psychological capability that helps them to deal with adverse events and risks (Stewart et al. 1997).
  • Interpersonal conflicts at work: negative interactions with others in the workplace (Nixon et al. 2011).
Figure 2. Safety performance terminology hierarchy

A self-administered survey was used, and 1281 surveys were collected in Ontario from 2013 to 2016 (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Number of surveys distribution by area. GTA includes the following cities: Toronto (647), Milton (115), Markham (61), Mississauga (49), Scarborough (29), Vaughan (22) North York (20), Brampton (13), Richmond Hill (6), Aurora (5).

Safety Outcomes by Experience

A comparison is made between two cross-sectional studies: 911 questionnaires collected from construction workers between 2004 and 2006, and 802 collected between 2014 and 2015 in Ontario, Canada. Stress and events decreased consistently for all experience quartiles over the past decade (Figure 4). A small increase in the second quartile, evident in both 2004 and 2014, demonstrates the potential development of safety complacency, which is overcome soon after. Injuries, however, are different.

Figure 4. Safety outcomes by experience

Participants with 5 or fewer years of experience made substantial reductions in injuries, but the others did not. Examining the details showed that those with 11-15 year of experience (17% of the sample) reported the most:

  • Injuries in 7 of 11 categories (64%)
  • Stresses in 2 of 6 categories (33%)
  • Events in 4 of 9 categories (44%)

Industry safety experts attribute it to worker complacency, overconfidence, and repetitive-use injuries that develop as workers gain competence in their trade and become desensitized to the dangers of the workplace.

The anomalies in the safety performance of workers with 11-15 years of experience was uncovered. While most statistics focus on age, experience appears to have a greater impact on safety performance.

The Role of Safety Climate and Individual Resilience in Affecting Construction Safety Performance

Six most cited factors in the literature on construction safety climate including management commitment to safety, supervisor safety perception, co-worker safety perception, work pressure, role overload, and safety knowledge were used to define safety climate. Four hypotheses were tested, among which three were supported as shown by the check marks. A SEM model was built, as shown in Figure 5.

  • H1: safety climate is negatively related to physical safety outcomes
  • H2: IR is negatively related to physical safety outcomes
  • H3: IR is negatively related to job stress
  • H4: Safety outcomes are positively related to job stress.
Figure 5. Safety climate, individual resilience, and safety outcomes

It was found that safety climate affects not only physical safety outcomes but also job stress, and individual resilience affects job stress of construction workers, especially post-trauma psychological health. Given these findings, construction organizations need to not only monitor employees’ safety performance but also their psychological well-being. Promoting a positive safety climate together with developing training programs focusing on improving employees’ psychological health, especially post-trauma psychological health, can improve organizations’ safety performance.

The Impact of Interpersonal Conflicts at Work on Construction Safety Performance

Interpersonal conflicts at work (ICW) mainly has two forms on a construction site: conflicts with supervisors (ICWS) and conflicts with coworkers (ICWC). The occurrence of ICWS and ICWC on construction sites was assessed. More ICWC than ICWS were reported, as shown in Figure 6. Approximate 21% of the respondents reported that they sometimes got into arguments with their coworkers (CC1), their coworkers were sometimes rude to them (CC2), and 12% reported that their coworkers sometimes did mean things to them (CC3). By contrast, only 13%, 12%, and 7% of the respondents reported they sometimes got into arguments with their supervisors or subordinates (CS1), their supervisors or subordinates were rude to them (CS2), or, did nasty things to them (CS3).

Figure 6. Frequency of interpersonal conflict.

The relationship among ICWS, ICWC and safety outcomes was investigated. Possible antecedents of ICWS and ICWC including workhours, mobility, and individual resilience were examined. Six major hypotheses were tested, and four of them were supported as shown by the check marks. A SEM model was built, as shown in Figure 7.

  • H1: ICW is positively associated with physical safety outcomes
  • H2: ICW is positively associated with job stress
  • H3: number of hours worked in the previous month is positively associated with ICW
  • H4: number of employers in the previous 3 years is positively associated with ICW
  • H5: number of projects in the previous 3 years is positively associated with ICW
  • H6: IR is negatively associated with ICW
Figure 7. Individual resilience, interpersonal conflicts at work, and safety performance

It was found that ICW had a significant effect on both physical safety outcomes including physical injuries and unsafe events, and job stress. Individual resilience (IR) had a significant negative correlation with both ICWS and ICWC, which in turn could decrease the frequency of physical safety outcomes and job stress. The contributions to the Body of Knowledge are: safety professionals may consider adding coping skill training safety programs to improve the individual resilience of their workforce and reduce conflict-related safety outcomes.

The Impact of Organizational Resilience on Construction Safety Performance

Organizational resilience has been proposed to be a proactive approach to safety management for the next generation. Qualitative studies on defining resilience and using resilience rules to interpret safety practices have been widely conducted; however, relatively few quantitative studies have been done to measure resilience. Further, no empirical studies have investigated the interactions between resilience factors and safety outcomes. The following work is undergoing: identifying the interactions among resilience factors, and their impact on individual safety performance on construction sites.

Related publications

Yuting Chen, Brenda McCabe, Douglas Hyatt, 2017. The impact of individual resilience and safety climate on safety performance and psychological stresses of construction workers: a case study in the Ontario construction industry. Journal of Safety Research, 61, 167–176. Download this paper 

Yuting Chen, Brenda McCabe, Douglas Hyatt, 2017. The relationship between individual resilience, interpersonal conflicts at work, safety performance and stresses of construction workers. Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, 04017042-1. Download this paper

Brenda McCabe, Emilie Alderman, Yuting Chen, Douglas Hyatt, Arash Shahi, 2016. Safety performance in the construction industry: quasi-longitudinal study. Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, 04016113. Download this paper

Yuting Chen, Brenda McCabe, Douglas Hyatt, 2016. Safety and Age: A Longitudinal Study of Ontario Construction Workers. ASCE Construction Research Congress, Puerto Rico, USA.

Yuting Chen, Brenda McCabe, Emilie Alderman, Douglas Hyatt, 2015. Data Collection Framework for Construction Safety. ICSC15 – The Canadian Society for Civil Engineering’s 5th International/11th Construction Specialty Conference, Vancouver, Canada.

Brenda McCabe, Catherine Loughlin, Ramona Munteanu, Sean Tucker, Andrew Lam, 2008. Individual safety and health outcomes in the construction industry. Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering, 35(12), 1455–1467.

Research minutes

#1701: Individual resilience can reduce stress, conflict, and injuries Download

#1702: Improving your Safety climate can reduce unsafe incidents Download