Humans are social creatures, and our actions and beliefs are often shaped by those around us. This innate tendency to imitate others, known as conformity, plays a significant role in the construction industry, ​particularly​ when it comes to ensuring safety. ​Given the significant impact of conformity on construction safety​,​ safety managers ​are wise to​​ leverage this human trait to create a safer working environment.

Understanding Conformity

Conformity has ​captured the​ attention ​of​ psychologists due to its pervasive influence on human behavior. Although ​the study of conformity​ ​focuses primarily on its​ broader societal implications, ​it has several​ practical applications ​on construction job sites, which can — depending on the job — pose significant dangers. ​

Drivers of Conformity

Psychologists have identified two primary reasons that drive conformity. First, people often observe the beliefs and behaviors of others to gain information on how to act in various situations. We learn from those we trust, respect, or perceive as experts. In the construction industry, this means that workers may imitate the safety practices of their supervisors or colleagues, especially if they are confident and experienced individuals.

The second driver of conformity is the​ human​ desire to gain and retain the approval of others. In workplaces where strong bonds of loyalty and camaraderie exist, individuals may go to great lengths to preserve the acceptance and validation of their peers. Safety managers can harness this desire for social approval to foster a safety culture where adhering to safety guidelines becomes a norm.

The Dual Nature of Conformity

Conformity can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can positively influence workplace safety by encouraging employees to adopt safer behaviors when they observe others following safety protocols. For instance, workers are more likely to wash their hands frequently if they witness their colleagues practicing good hand hygiene.

However, conformity can also have negative implications for safety. If workers observe their peers taking shortcuts or disregarding safety measures, they may be tempted to do the same, leading to an increased risk of accidents or injuries. Therefore, it​’​s crucial for safety managers to actively promote and reinforce positive safety behaviors to prevent the spread of detrimental conformity.

Leveraging Conformity for Improved Safety

To leverage conformity as a tool for enhancing construction safety, safety managers can implement the following strategies:

  1. Lead by example: Safety managers should consistently demonstrate and promote safe practices. By setting an exemplary standard, they can positively influence their team members and encourage conformity to safety guidelines.
  2. Effective communication: Clearly communicate safety expectations and the rationale behind them. When employees understand the importance of safety measures and witness their peers conforming to them, they are more likely to follow suit.
  3. Peer influence: Encourage positive peer-to-peer interactions that foster safety-conscious behaviors. Establishing safety committees, organizing safety training sessions led by experienced workers, or creating mentorship programs can help create a culture of conformity to safety practices.
  4. Recognition and rewards: Recognize individuals or teams that consistently adhere to safety protocols. Positive reinforcement enhances the desire for social approval and motivates others to conform to safety standards.

Conformity is an inherent aspect of human behavior that profoundly influences workplace safety within the construction industry. By understanding the drivers of conformity and implementing strategies that leverage its power, safety managers can shape a safety culture where employees willingly conform to best practices. Ultimately, harnessing the influence of conformity can create a safer and more secure working environment.​