The Toxic "Hero" Culture: How Overconfidence Endangers Construction Safety

The toxic hero culture in the construction industry can lead to overconfidence and increased risk. To combat this, companies should prioritise a comprehensive safety culture, involve workers in safety decisions, and leverage innovative tools like the Scratchie app for promoting positive behaviour.
May 5, 2023
James Kell
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In the world of construction, the presence of a "hero" culture can create a dangerous environment for workers. When bravado and overconfidence lead to the dismissal of safety protocols, the consequences can be catastrophic. It is essential to understand that while addressing individual behaviours may seem superficial, it can significantly contribute to improving a workplace's safety culture. By examining the complex relationship between hero culture, overconfidence, and construction safety, senior leaders can make informed decisions to create safer work environments.

Dissecting the Hero Culture and Its Impact on Construction Safety

Understanding Hero Culture

At the core of the hero culture is the belief that taking risks and pushing boundaries are admirable qualities. This mindset can lead workers to prioritise speed and efficiency over their own safety and that of their colleagues. When left unchecked, hero culture can result in a higher likelihood of accidents and incidents on construction sites.

The Role of Overconfidence

Overconfidence is a cognitive bias that leads individuals to overestimate their abilities and underestimate the risks associated with a task. In construction, this can manifest in various ways, from workers attempting tasks without proper training to dismissing safety procedures. Overconfidence can create a culture that values individual heroism over collective safety, with potentially disastrous consequences.

The Importance of a Comprehensive Safety Culture

Safety Systems that Address Hero Culture

A well-rounded safety culture can effectively manage hero culture and its associated risks, without dulling the spirit of workers. By promoting a culture that values transparency, accountability, and learning from mistakes, construction companies can ensure that bravado becomes socially unacceptable, and where professionalism is king. This approach prioritises the wellbeing of the workforce and balances efficiency and productivity.

The Compliance Paradigm and the Role of Carrots and Sticks

Over the past three decades, the compliance paradigm has focused on using "sticks" to punish the wrong behaviours. With the advent of innovative tools like the Scratchie app, the industry now has a "carrot" to encourage the right behaviours. By offering on-the-spot rewards for workers who demonstrate a positive safety attitude, these incentives can help prime the desired behaviours that ultimately create a safer work environment.

Implementing Strategies to Counteract Hero Culture

Encouraging Open Communication and Learning from Mistakes

Senior leaders must foster a culture that values open communication and learning from mistakes. Workers should feel comfortable reporting safety concerns or incidents without fear of punishment. These situations should be treated as opportunities to improve safety practices and prevent future accidents.

Providing Engaging Training and Education

While "more training" is often seen as the catch-all solution to safety-related issues, what's needed is more engaging training that genuinely resonates with workers. By creating educational programs that capture the attention of employees and instil the importance of safe work practices, senior leaders can help mitigate the risks associated with hero culture.

Rewarding Positive Safety Behaviours

Using tools like the Scratchie app, companies can encourage positive safety behaviours through on-the-spot rewards. By reinforcing desired behaviours, senior leaders can help create a safety culture where overconfidence and bravado are no longer tolerated, ultimately improving overall safety on construction sites.

The Role of Leadership in Combating Hero Culture

Setting the Right Example

Senior leaders play a crucial role in shaping the culture of a construction company. By modelling safe behaviour and demonstrating a genuine commitment to safety, leaders can send a clear message to workers that safety is a top priority. This includes engaging in regular safety training and adhering to the same safety protocols expected of employees.

Empowering Employees to Speak Up

Encouraging workers to voice their concerns about safety issues is vital in combatting hero culture. By fostering an environment where employees feel comfortable discussing potential hazards or suggesting improvements, senior leaders can ensure that safety remains at the forefront of company operations.

Involving Workers in Safety Decisions

Involving workers in safety decisions can help build trust and a sense of ownership over safety initiatives. By seeking input from employees and incorporating their feedback into safety policies and procedures, companies can create a more inclusive safety culture that values the opinions and experiences of all workers.

Rewarding Workers for the Right Behaviour

One of the key problems with improving safety culture is cynicism that arises through a disconnnect between what management tells workers to do, and what workers believe management is doing. A classic example is the safety poster on the wall imploring workers to be safe. Rewarding workers shows that management is serious and committed to recognising safe work.

Recognising the Limitations of Hero Culture

Overcoming the Illusion of Control

The hero culture often leads workers to believe that they can control every aspect of their work environment. However, it is important to recognise that accidents can still occur despite best efforts to prevent them. By acknowledging the limitations of human control and focusing on creating a robust safety culture, companies can reduce the risks associated with heroism and overconfidence.

Embracing the Importance of Teamwork

In construction, teamwork is critical to completing projects safely and efficiently. By promoting a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility, companies can counteract the hero mentality and encourage workers to support one another in maintaining a safe work environment.

Continuous Improvement and Adaptation

The construction industry is continuously evolving, and safety strategies must adapt accordingly. By committing to ongoing improvement and staying informed about the latest safety research and best practices, senior leaders can ensure that their companies are prepared to address the challenges associated with hero culture and overconfidence.


Combating the toxic hero culture in the construction industry requires a multifaceted approach that addresses the root causes of overconfidence and its impact on safety. By prioritising a comprehensive safety culture, involving workers in safety decisions, and leveraging innovative tools like the Scratchie app, senior leaders can effectively manage the risks associated with hero culture and create a safer work environment for all employees. In doing so, the industry can move away from the dangerous mindset of heroism and towards a more collaborative, supportive, and safety-conscious culture.

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