It takes 7 seconds to make a first impression.

Just 7.

In that time, you are lucky to have stated your name and shaken their hand.

But they have made their mind up about you.

How you stand, what you are wearing, the eye contact you made, the expression on your face, the firmness of your handshake.

We forget how many behavioural cues we subconsciously take in.

Which means that first impressions really count!

And that we need that first impression to say certain things about us when we are on site.

FIRSTLY, we need to be open and approachable.

There is no point arriving onto a construction site, all guns blazing, putting your foot down, moaning that nothing is compliant and shutting down the works. That is EXACTLY the sort of behaviour that gives ECoWs a bad name, stops everyone from Project Managers to Operatives taking us seriously (they feel we throw our toys out the pram at the smallest problem), and prevents us building a working relationship that serves both the project and the ECoW role.

When we hack off the site team, they hide things from us. They don’t want to work with us or bring issues or problems to us for discussion, exactly because there is no discussion. They just get hauled over the coals. No one wants to be in that situation.

Instead, we are friendly yet professional. Take everything in and observe what is going on. We invite discussion. We ask questions: how are things going? What issues have already been identified? Where do they feel they need the most help? We listen to the answers.

Use inclusive language – ‘us’ and ‘we’. Give the feeling that we are working as part of their team, that we are collaborative and willing to help.

SECONDLY, we add weight where it is truly needed.

No one likes someone who makes mountains out of molehills. Yep, you know the person I mean – Where every tiny issue is a giant problem that gets shouted from the rooftops and starts a full scale investigation in order to find out who is to blame.

That is never the solution.

Pointing the finger, naming and shaming only creates negativity and decimates our good first impression. It also means that when we ask for something to be done, no one will want to action it, as any respect for us has been lost.

Instead, we flag up issues impartially. We capture them in our weekly reports and any formal  inspections and audits. We catch up with site staff to see which action points have been closed out which are still active. It should never be a battle.

We remain professional and provide advice on what our recommendations are in order to remain compliant with legislation. The project is the one at risk if these recommendations are not followed through.

We keep everyone up to date with a verbal conversation of what has been observed that week, so that everyone is in the know and when the report hits their inboxes there are no nasty surprises. We don’t rely on the reports to convey urgency or importance. We talk to people about them.

We use the reporting structure to see the trends. When something has been outstanding for too long (and this will vary depending on what it is) then we look at raising it further.

We open up a discussion with key site personnel about the issue. It is at this point that we emphasise issues or problems that really need pushed. We are firm and serious, yet still professional. We explain the risks (non-compliance, risk of prosecution, fines, SEPA site visits etc.) and the urgency for getting a solution in place. We use any incident/near miss reporting procedure to increase awareness and importance.

This builds trust that we know when to push and when not to. It demonstrates that we are proportionate in what we ask of the site team.

THIRDLY, we must report on both positive and negative observations.

The biggest issue that I have observed on site a lack of balance in communication.

When all someone hears about is the bad stuff, they shut off. People stop listening and they no longer care about what we are saying. Every time they hear from us and it is only the negative, they get an ear bashing and a giant to-do list of all the things that they need to sort out.

If you were dealing with someone like that, you would run the minute you saw them coming!

So no wonder I have been called onto many sites where the phrase, ‘Oh no, the environmental person is here’ is said with complete dread.

I can only say that I love turning this situation around; embedding environmental communication into the site procedures so that is becomes the norm and so that communication can flow. I love it when operatives stop me to tell me that they have been feeding the birds in their garden, or that they want to show me round their site with pride. It makes my day to see them love what they do.

So we must give praise where it is due. This helps build that relationship and create an easy flow of environmental information. Whether it is an observed behaviour or the general tidiness of the site, good observations are key to creating a good environmental culture and cultivating pride in the workplace.

Often, the first sign that the site is an unhappy place to work, is the litter and the lack of waste segregation. This is another wonderful way to tie in with the Project Manager to get a better feel for how things are going and allow issues to be flagged early.


Whether you are a Project Manager, a Health and Safety Manager, an Operative, or the Waste Carrier, we work with, as part, and together at all times

Even when delivering difficult feedback.

But we can only have that difficult conversation when our communication is open, honest and built on trust.

Start your communication off on the right footing.

Make your 7 seconds count.


By Clare Nisbet ACIEEM

Blog posts on the CIEEM website are the views and opinions of the author(s) credited. They do not necessarily represent the views or position of CIEEM. The CIEEM blog is intended to be a space in which we publish though-provoking and discussion-stimulating articles.