Problems with safety observation reporting: a construction industry case study

David Oswald, Fred Sherratt, Simon Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Many large construction organisations use safety observation reporting (SOR) as part of their safety management system on sites, although research around their effectiveness in practice is limited. During an ethnographically-informed research project, the lead author spent three years working with the health and safety team on a large (+£500m) construction project in the United Kingdom with such a system in place. The SOR system encouraged everyone on site to report unsafe acts or conditions, either via computer or handwritten cards, for subsequent action by the health and safety team. Despite good intentions, problems with the SOR system emerged. These included: significantly increased administration to deliver predictable data; poor data quality; an unwelcome focus on the number rather than content of the reports; their use as a tool to ascribe individual or organisational blame; and the perception that the SOR forms were being censored before they reached the health and safety team, which ultimately eroded trust between the workforce and management. Overall, the system as implemented on this site had the potential to cause more harm than good, and both disengage the workforce and frustrate the health and safety team. Although presented as a case study, it is suggested that the research methods used here have been able to expose and illuminate issues that would otherwise go unreported. It is recommended that these issues be considered within the design and implementation of such SOR systems in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-45
Number of pages11
JournalSafety Science
Volume107
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018

Keywords

  • Safety observation reporting
  • near misses
  • Safety Management
  • Ethnography

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