Making a difference in the offsite manufacturing and construction industry

Fleetwood Australia is a leading Australian-based offsite manufacturing and modular construction company. As a growing business, the company wants to drive an organisational safety culture that is instilled through the responsibilities, decisions, and actions of every employee, every day.

In the manufacturing and construction industry more broadly, a combination of limited resources, time pressures, business competition, high job demands, long working hours, a blended and transient workforce, and a culture where people are expected to just “get on with it” can contribute to incidents, hazards and declining well-being.

Fleetwood Australia therefore saw an opportunity to learn from other sectors and jurisdictions when it comes to instilling a consistent workplace ethic of excellence in worker safety. Specifically, it was interested in the question: "What behaviours are critical to prioritising employee health and safety and establishing a safety culture within the workplace, and how can these behaviours be applied within the operations of FleetwoodAustralia?"

The challenge:
Understanding what behaviours are critical to prioritising employee health and safety and establishing a safety culture in the workplace.
Fleetwood Australia

What did we do?

Fleetwood Australia engaged BehaviourWorks Australia to conduct three interlinked research activities:

  1. A rapid review of the research literature to identify behaviours that make a difference to employee health and safety in the manufacturing and construction industry, as well as their underlying drivers and barriers.
  2. A practice review with external research and industry experts to uncover how insights form the research literature materialise "on the group" in an Australian context.
  3. A series of interviews with Fleetwood Australia employees and contractors to map the previous findings against the lived experiences of staff, while also unpacking the drivers and barriers relating to a specific priority behaviour.

What did we find?

The review of the research literature identified ten consistent categories of behaviour that contribute to health and safety outcomes within the manufacturing and construction industry. The behaviours covered a combination of preventative, in-situ and responsive actions performed by both senior management and individual workers. These categories essentially provided Fleetwood Australia with an evidenced-based checklist of behaviours that it can implement as part of taking a whole-of-organisation approach to health and safety.

The interviews with external industry and research experts identified a smaller but consistent subset of behaviours that focused on hazard identification and management, speaking-up and reporting. The underlying drivers and barriers of these behaviours (as well as those identified in the research literature) highlighted how a mixture of individual (e.g., personality traits), external (the economic and regulatory environment), capability (e.g.,skills, workloads, systems, mental health, literacy) and social factors (e.g.,relationships, communication, leadership, commitments) interact with each other and impact on health and safety outcomes.  

The interviews with Fleetwood staff, across different levels and teams, focused on unpacking the behaviour of “speaking-up” when individuals are confronted with a health and safety concern. A host of drivers supporting this behaviour were identified, including positive and respectful relationships, having multiple channels for asking questions, daily forums where concerns are discussed, expectation setting, and swift follow-up of actions that  empower individuals and show that they can make a difference to workplace safety. But there were also barriers, including time pressures and workloads, a delay in follow-up actions, job insecurity, a lack of communication skills, and reporting systems that don’t always have the end-user in mind. These drivers and barriers can vary across different business contexts and can reflect how challenges being encountered at the upstream or management level will often flow down to health and safety problems happening on the factory floor and construction sites.

In response to these drivers and barriers, Fleetwood staff discussed several future intervention opportunities. These included staff relationship-building through social events; leadership breaking down barriers across different levels of the organisation; better integration of safety considerations into project planning; recognition and rewards for speaking-up; implementing visible follow-up actions (or being transparent on why some actions were not implemented); more visual, interactive, engaging training on safety; smaller group catch-ups; as well as acknowledging the mental health challenges facing the manufacturing and construction industry more broadly.

What happened next?

Since the completion of the research, Fleetwood Australia has implemented several initiatives. These have included:

  • Implementing a requirement that Health, Safety, Environment and Quality (HSEQ) team members attend specific tender review meetings to ensure alignment in planning processes that prevent downstream problems from upstream factors.
  • The delivery of "toolbox talks" to smaller groups to ensure better participation from younger and less experienced workers. These toolbox talks have also adopted a spotlight on specific behaviours based on the research (e.g., hazard identification, speaking-up).
  • A national monthly award and public recognition program for workers demonstrating positive safety behaviour.
  • Guest speaker events where senior management cook a BBQ for the factory/construction workers to bridge team divides.
  • Improved and tailored training for specific areas of risk.
  • Enhancing visibility of actions being taken, and driving understanding about the adverse consequences associated with inaction (e.g., not speaking up about bullying can lead to a lack of psychological safety).

Final remarks

The behaviour of speaking-up encompasses several critical ingredients underlying health and safety outcomes in the manufacturing and construction industry. It encapsulates workers identifying potential hazards in the first instance and then reflecting on the need and having the confidence to ask questions; management providing forums, breaking down barriers and giving permission for these questions to be asked; and reciprocal relationships and social exchanges between workers and management that yield visible changes to the workplace that make a difference.

By focusing on the behaviour of speaking-up and responding to the questions and concerns being raised (across different levels of the organisation), we believe it can drive a culture in offsite manufacturing and construction where health and safety is part of the decision-making and behaviours of every employee, every day.

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