Foremen Are Vital To Safety Efforts

George KennedyNot all foremen are enthusiastic advocates of safety. To many foremen, safety is just another task on a list of many. Some will question, “Why me? We have a safety guy or gal. Why do I have to do this? Why am I responsible for safety?” The answer is simple: Foremen, like project managers, are line managers who have the authority and responsibility for quality, production and safety of their crews.

Until line managers, including foremen, understand that they are on the front line with regard to the safety of their crews and that the safety director is a consultant or resource who is there simply to back them up, safety efforts at the jobsite will be ineffective. Safety directors are staff managers whose responsibilities include providing assistance, guidance, resources, information and training to help line managers actually implement the safety program.

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Although it is not always an easy task, safety directors must help foremen and other line managers buy into company safety efforts. Foremen remain the key to the success of a construction safety program because they are more influential to the workers than the safety director, and because they are in a position to implement and enforce company safety policies and rules at the jobsite. Therefore, safety directors should make every effort to make foremen part of the safety team.

While most foremen are very skilled at their jobs, many have come up through the ranks and have no formal supervisor training. Consequently, if the safety program is going to be a success, they need to learn key management skills, as well as the relevant safety policies, procedures, rules and regulations.

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Line managers should be required to attend safety management training — no excuses. Without the necessary safety management training, line managers will be left to learn on-the-job through trial and error, and you can rest assured they will make mistakes. Hopefully none of those mistakes will result in employees being injured or killed on the job. If they don’t attend, they will miss the opportunity to learn new things or refresh their knowledge, and will send a negative message to employees that safety is not important.

In the minds of some foremen, the safety director is not only the person who requires them to do extra paperwork, but also the one who is going to come down on them when they don’t do it right. Foremen have their own work to do and the last thing they want is someone telling them that they are doing a poor job. If the safety director comes across with a domineering or superior attitude, the foreman is likely to resist any training efforts. On the other hand, if the safety director takes the time to build a rapport with foremen, they are likely to be more open and receptive to implementing safety procedures and doing all that can be done to keep the crew safe.

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Safety directors can establish a rapport with foremen by making themselves available to listen to and help them solve problems, even if the problems are not safety-related. Sometimes the foremen just need to sound off to somebody they can trust. It is important to remember that foremen have a job to do and maintaining a safe jobsite is only part of their responsibilities. When foremen buy into to the safety management process, they realize that doing things safely will increase production, quality and morale.

Foremen are less likely to pay attention to safety issues if they believe the safety director doesn’t know the first thing about the work in progress and is not willing to learn more about how foremen do their jobs. Safety directors should ask foremen for permission to shadow them to learn more about the process. Just as you as a safety director want foremen to understand safety related issues, they want you to understand their issues. Showing that kind of interest will enhance the safety director’s knowledge and credibility and demonstrate concern.

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Most foremen will need some form of training to help them learn how to establish objectives, create a plan and communicate with workers on safety issues. Take, for example, the presentation of a Safety Toolbox Talk. Do your foremen know how to give a presentation so workers don’t embarrass them, and what resources are available that they can draw upon to help them hold a successful meeting? Sending out a Toolbox Talk that you downloaded from the NUCA website ( and telling the foremen to hold Toolbox Talks is not good enough. They will need guidance and instruction to help them deliver a safety message that will motivate the workers to take it to heart.

Training sessions for foremen should be scheduled far enough in advance so foremen can comfortably fit them into their work schedule. The first meeting should begin with the owner, president, vice president or CEO of the company stating his or her vision of safety, why it is important to all workers and to the success of the company. Next, he or she should explain that the safety director’s role is to assist company managers, foremen and supervisors with their safety responsibilities.

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Subsequent session topics should be chosen with the goal of helping foremen perform their safety responsibilities with confidence and efficiency. Be sure they understand what the company safety program says, including policies, procedures, rules, etc. Arrange for them to learn about OSHA, DOT and EPA regulations that apply to their work. It is important for foremen to understand that the company has a responsibility to comply with these regulations at all work sites, all the time. Teach them how to present a Toolbox Talk. Other topics could include how to handle an OSHA inspection, perform an accident investigation and/or how to coach workers; try some role playing. Teach them management skills that will help them with their day-to-day safety responsibilities. Arrange to send them to safety seminars and training such as NUCA Competent Person Training and/or Confined Space Entry programs to help them learn about pertinent regulations and safety management skills.

The safety director can help by being available to help foremen learn the skills necessary to maintain a safe jobsite. In addition, the safety director could occasionally tour the jobsite with foremen to help them hone their inspection skills and get their jobsites in compliance.

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Because safety in the workplace is a team effort, senior management — with the help of the safety director — should secure the support and buy-in of all managers, but don’t leave the foremen out. They are on the front line, and without them, all safety efforts will be hindered. Provide foremen with the knowledge, guidance and resources necessary for them to make every jobsite a safe place to work. Keep the teams working cohesively by ensuring that the captains of the team — the foremen — are prepared to run the plays.

George Kennedy is NUCA Vice President of Safety.