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Issue 29, March 2014 

Leading by Example

"Walking the Walk" Can Save Lives 


We all know that leadership is critical to establishing safety on the construction job site. Workers who believe that both the company headquarters and the field supervisors take occupational safety seriously are more likely to take the time and effort to work safely. But leadership can take many forms: Which are most important?

Over the past five years CPWR has sponsored a world-class research team from the fields of psychology and occupational health to investigate safety leadership in the construction industry. A survey of more than 1,000 plumbers and pipefitters uncovered some important clues.


When supervisors reward safe behavior or punish unsafe behavior, they engage in what psychologists call "transactional leadership." They are striking a deal with employees: if I get something I want, you will get something you want. This kind of leadership did lead to some improvements, but it wasn't the most important kind.


Supervisors whom workers admired for their character, intelligence and skills could exercise much more powerful "transformational leadership." That is, when trades employees saw a foreman they admired making safety a top priority, the workers began to make safety a higher priority as well.  


That matches my experience. Other CPWR studies have shown that incentive programs that reward crews with prizes for safe work can actually discourage workers from reporting injuries when they do happen. This new study suggests that construction workers are motivated better by role models than by rewards for accident-free days.  


The Differential Effects of Transformational Leadership Facets on Employee Safety appears in the February 2014 edition of Safety Science.



Pete Stafford

Executive Director    


Recently Published Journal Articles by CPWR Scholars


Development of program logic model and evaluation plan for a participatory ergonomics intervention in construction. Jaegers L, Dale AM, Weaver N, Buchholz B, Welch L, and Evanoff B. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, March 2014.


The Differential Effects of Transformational Leadership Facets on Employee Safety. Hoffmeister K, Gibbons A, Johnson S, Cigularov K, Chen P, Rosecrance J. Safety Science, Feb 2014


Doing it old school: Peer-led safety and health training in the U.S. construction industry. Sinyai C, Stafford P, and Trahan C. McGill Journal of Education, Dec 2013


Correlation between safety climate and contractor safety assessment programs in construction. Sparer E, Murphy L, Taylor K, and Dennerlein J. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Dec 2013







Find the latest on regulatory efforts and and Create-A-Plan to control exposures at Work Safely with Silica -- a one-stop source of information on how to prevent a silica hazard and protect workers. 


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Visit CPWR for information on our training programs, research findings, and resources for your health and safety or research initiatives






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CPWR -- The Center for Construction Research and Training is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization created by the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO. Working with partners like you in business, labor, government, and the universities, we strive every day to make work safer for the 9 million men and women who work in the U.S. construction industry!