All of us have felt the pressure of a schedule. Pressures are imposed by people, equipment/materials, and the environment. Pressures surface when we are up against a deadline and we are running late, we lack the necessary human and equipment/material resources to accomplish a task on time, we failed to adequately plan the steps of our project, our internal or external clients are unhappy with the way things are going, or Mother Nature just won’t cut us a break.

Stress generated under schedule pressure is a common aspect of essentially all construction sites. Working with a major construction contractor on low-frequency, high-impact incidents prevention, the issue of schedule pressure and its potential effect on safety performance surfaced as a topic worth exploring.

A brief review of the literature interestingly revealed that not much has been written on the effect of schedule pressure on safety and what has been written is mostly concentrated on the construction industry.

In NASA’s recently released Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel’s Annual Report for 20151, schedule pressure is mentioned a number of times in the context of leading to “an apparent erosion of safety” and a “continuing and unacknowledged accretion of risk.”

“Induced demand”

Nepal, et al. define schedule pressure as the “induced demand perceived by individuals or work groups to perform their work within a given time frame.”2 Nepal and his colleagues noted that as schedule pressure increases the greater the likelihood work performed out of sequence will increase. Workers who perceive they have to overcome schedule pressure will tend to cut corners, even safety corners, in order to meet the schedule. Plus, an increase in schedule pressure can lead to an increase in work defects through the selective use of information even though it may be unintentional. All of these effects of schedule pressure ultimately lead to an increase in the amount of rework, which truly is a quality problem which worsens construction performance.3

Although Nepal, et al. did not specifically examine site safety as a variable in their work, they do infer site safety can be negatively impacted by schedule pressure. Their inference is based on the variables they studied that affected construction performance, namely work rate, quality, and productivity. In the authors’ opinions, site safety would be related to these three variables and thus could be negatively affected.4 

The results of their work revealed that schedule pressure does affect workers’ work behavior and performance leading to an increase of out-of-sequence work and increased number of work defects. The research strongly suggested that schedule pressure can have a positive effect if applied in moderation resulting in increased effectiveness and efficiency of workers, while too much schedule pressure can lead to negatively impacting productivity.5  

Strategies to counter schedule pressure

Nepal, et al. suggest adopting the following strategies to counter the effects of schedule pressure in the construction industry. First, the authors suggest that construction schedules be attainable and set realistically. Unrealistic timing for tasks leads to compromising quality, which introduces defects that need to be fixed, or worse yet ignored and have to be addressed later in the project at a higher cost. 

Second, motivating workers can be an effective means for dealing with workers under schedule pressure through their participation with supervisors in setting goals. Supervisors need to pay attention to fulfilling workers’ basic needs and expectations. 

Third, site managers must be proactive in planning construction activities such as material procurement, proper site layout and workspace design, adequate resource commitment, etc. in order to minimize work disruptions and interruptions, which plague construction worksites. 

Finally, the authors recommend extensive levels of coordination and communication throughout the construction project and with all involved to include suppliers, subcontractors/trades and designers.6

In another schedule pressure study also focused on construction operations, the authors refer to schedule pressure as production pressure. In this case, the authors, Han et al., do connect safety to production pressure and conclude production pressure is a key linkage between scheduling and safety construction operations.7

Production pressure and safety

Using a feedback loop analysis model for the causal relationships between production pressure and safety performance in construction operations, findings surfaced by Han and his colleagues included the following 8:

• Managerial actions to enhance safety performance focused on introducing safety training to elevate risk awareness and reduce unsafe behaviors leading to a reduction in accidents.  Paying attention to schedule delay-labor hours provides a measure for management to reduce schedule delays and correspondingly improve production rates.

• The impact of quality performance (i.e., rework) led to schedule delays, which in turn led to production pressure that leads to errors and produces further rework.

• Fatigue comes with increased rework requiring more overtime to recover from schedule delays, not to mention higher turnover rate among workers, which leads to accident occurrences.

• The effect of rework on safety supervision found that communication between supervisors and workers is strongly correlated with positive safety outcomes. Having access to foremen also proved to affect accident rates due to the control supervisors have over the construction environment and their impact upon workers’ attitudes and behaviors.

• Crew size and ratio of supervisors to crew member or foreman were found to have a significant impact upon safety performance, especially workers’ perception of safety.

• The production pressure-incident rate represents the goal conflict between safety and production. Accidents occur, management’s attention turns to safety, which can lead to production delays and schedule pressure that affects hazard awareness.

• Safety climate (i.e., the summary of the workers’ perception of their work environment) was found to affect safety knowledge and motivation, which contributes to worker safety participation and compliance.

After running their simulation model, Han and his colleagues found the two critical success factors for safety management in construction operations: managing rework and schedule delays. Their finding supported the need to incorporate safety perspectives into schedule and quality management in practice. Quality deviations bring about rework and schedule delays cause workers to feel pressed to work faster.9

1  NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel. Annual Report for 2015.

2  Nepal, M.P., M. Park, and B. Son. 2006. Effects of Schedule Pressure on Construction Performance. In Journal of Construction Engineering and Management. 132, 2:182-188.

3  Ibid. pp. 183.

4  Ibid. pp. 184.

5  Ibid. pp. 186.

6  Ibid. pp. 187.

7  Han, SU., F. Saba, SH. Lee, Y. Mohamed, and F. Pena-Mora. Toward an understanding of the impact of production pressure on safety performance in construction operations. In Accidents Analysis and Prevention. 68(2014) 106-116.

8  Ibid. pp. 108-109.

9  Ibid. pp. 113.