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Making sensei

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HIA and icare NSW join forces to help reduce the high rates of injury among young - and often tentative – workers and apprentices who work on construction sites.

Housing author

Kerryn Ramsey

According to many young apprentices in the construction industry, they believe the job comes with risks. This attitude, which is deeply ingrained, is one reason why our industry has significantly higher physical injury rates compared to many other sectors. It’s particularly true for young workers and apprentices who are more likely to be injured. 

Determined to help reduce injury rate for young apprentices, HIA and icare NSW have launched a safety campaign that will make young tradies sit up and listen. Titled The Common Sensei, it aims to improve knowledge, awareness and ownership of workplace risks to the Gen Y and Gen Z demographics. 
Risk factors

Prior to this launch, HIA and icare NSW had taken on research and development with young workers in the NSW construction industry. It found that just 33 per cent of those surveyed believed they will never get seriously injured on the worksite. However, they expect to experience at least minor injuries, such as cuts, twisted ankles, and the like. 

‘I walked into a joist in my first year and cut my leg. It was my fault; I wasn’t looking where I was going,’ said one of the young construction workers who participated in the survey. 
Another said: ‘It could be things like cuts or strains – you can feel it in your back just from lifting sheets all day. I’m only young but I feel it at the end of the day.’ 

Following this research, The Common Sensei is raising awareness and empowering changed behaviour regarding worksite safety. This will help reduce all levels of workplace accident and injury over time and ultimately, a cultural change in the construction industry. 

The initiative is underpinned by a proven methodology developed by The Shannon Company, a leading behaviour change communications organisation. Further helping to deliver the project are experienced evaluators, Human Capital Alliance, a management and research consultancy firm. 

Common Sensei aims to improve knowledge, awareness and ownership of workplace risks to the Gen Y and Gen Z demographics.

Hitting the mark

‘Sometimes I try to do something quick and might not have on my ear muffs,’ told a young construction worker in NSW in the recent survey. ‘I don’t worry so much about the PPE because I don’t think the task will take much time.’ 

It’s not easy to convince young tradies to follow safety requirements all the time. It’s even more difficult to make them spend time reading the fine print. That’s why The Common Sensei campaign uses social media, mainly Instagram, to deliver safety videos and messages to young workers, spoken by the ‘Common Sensei’. He’s the embodiment of an apprentice’s common sense on the worksite, and appears whenever danger is near. 

‘We are talking to this demographic in a way that entertains and engages with them so the important task of raising safety awareness onsite can be carried out effectively,’ says HIA NSW Executive Director, David Bare. ‘We always aim to do our utmost to create a bright and sustainable future for the industry’s next generation, and we believe that starts with talking about safety.’

Bigger picture

Many injuries occur because workers are young and still in a critical developmental period. Since they’re new to work, they don’t have the insights of experience. Many are ‘green and raw’ – they’re scared to come out of their shell – and many are still trying to work out who they are and want to prove themselves. 

‘There are many factors that go into making a worksite safe, including robust safety systems, but at its core, site safety starts with thinking for yourself and speaking up if something doesn’t feel right,’ says HIA’s David Bare. As The Common Sensei campaign offers apprentices essential information, it provides critical safety conversations with site supervisors. While the campaign is based in NSW, it may be extended to other states in the future. 

During the recent survey, another young apprentice revealed why common sense is the key to working safely and efficiently in this industry. ‘Onsite, you’re wrapped in safety bubble wrap. You could have every safety protocol in place but if you don’t have common sense, it doesn’t make a difference.’ 

Spread the word to young workers and apprentices in construction. Follow @commonsensei_au on Instagram or visit www.commonsensei.com.au

8 environmental factors

An RMIT University review by Construction Work Health and Safety Research @ RMIT, Lingard & Zhang (2019), The impact of supervisors’ and site managers’ behaviour on work health and safety in the construction industry, attributed workplace injuries among young workers to a range of individual developmental and organisational environmental factors, including: 

1. Inexperience and lack of familiarity with work tasks 
2. Reluctance to voice WHS concerns 
3. High job demands or poor work conditions 
4. Lack of control over work conditions 
5. Poor safety norms and culture in the workplace 
6. Inadequate supervision 
7. Insufficient learning opportunities 
8. Poor workplace psychosocial environment.

Mistakes to avoid

At the recent HIA/icare NSW survey, young workers and apprentices in NSW reveal some of their confronting experiences in the industry. 

• ‘Some sites you might not be able to make as safe as others. I was on a civil site, digging a trench and exposed live power mains that the surveyors didn’t pick up (no incidents – luckily the wire that was exposed was a dead one). I’m as much to blame as anyone – I should have cross-checked everything.’ 
• ‘Everyone cuts corners – if they tell you they don’t, they’re lying. There are calculated risks but some are more dangerous than others.’ 
• ‘The boss on my first site was always pressuring us to rush.’ 
• ‘Apprentices have an enthusiasm and desire to prove themselves.’ 
• ‘I saw someone trip and it was a wake-up call to me. It’s just bits of wood on the floor, but ‘they’ don’t think about the repercussions – don’t see it as a hazard.’

Top 5 types of injuries

The people within HIA most responsible for apprentice care and support have shortlisted types of injuries with associated causes of injury as follows: 
• Lacerations (from the use of non-powered hand tools such as saws, knives, metal bracing) 
• Puncture wounds (primarily from the use of nail guns) 
• Sprains and strains (presumably from muscular stress or ‘body stressing’) 
• Falls from a height 
• Trips and slips the result of environmental agencies.