Safety Culture: Are You Sure You have One?

Posted by
Lance Roux
on Jun 20, 2017

At a recent safety conference, we interviewed vendors and attendees and asked, "What is the most important thing a company needs to create a safe workplace.?" The answer was, "A Safety Culture." So, it was surprising that something so universally believed continues to be so elusive to companies big and small. Merriam-Webster defines culture as: A set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterizes an institution or organization. Safety culture in an organization does not exist separate from the other factors making up the company’s culture, but must be a part of the overall corporate culture to be accepted as a priority.

Some companies are famous for their cultures, think Google, Zappos, and Southwest Airlines. But culture is about more than open office space, free beer and ping-pong tables. Regarding safety, providing employees with a sense that their well-being is important to the company and that everyone looks out for each other can go a long way. This does not happen in a vacuum. Employees need to know that their observations and actions to improve safety will be supported and praised even if it results in a work slowdown or impacts the bottom line. 

While safety programs, personal protective equipment programs and compliance initiatives are tools to aid in safety, they do not make up a safety culture. Safety culture goes beyond tools and programs.

What constitutes a safety culture?

First and foremost, buy-in at all levels. Success in safety is a top down undertaking. If the commitment to safety does not exist at the very top and on all levels, then success will be limited. Safety cannot be one of 10 priorities for the company, but must be in the top 3.

Safety is an investment, not an expense. Failing to invest in safety is gambling. Companies are betting that they won't have an accident, and the odds are very, very bad. Often companies don't see the value of investing $1 today to save much, much more in accident costs later.

Everyone must be involved. The idea that safety is the job of the safety department is one of the most dangerous of all beliefs. It is impossible to create a safe workplace without active participation from those who are most at risk. Safety information and training must take place on all levels and be customized to address each level's role in safety.

Safety as continuous improvement. Making safety part of continuous improvement to ensure that safety isn't separate from the business but is an integral part of the business. Shifting the perspective from safe vs efficient to safe and efficient is not only good practice but sends the message that they are not competing, but are both important.

Systems for hazard control and prevention. Elimination of hazards, personal protective equipment, safe work practices, and safety policies and procedures are part of prevention. The goal is to reduce and/or eliminate risk and make safe practices a standard.

Blame-free work environment.  In some companies, the safety programs could be called the blame game. When an accident occurs, more energy is put into identifying and punishing the guilty, then solving the problem that led to the accident in the first place. Blame damages in a number of ways including: Lack of accountability, a culture of "It's not my fault" leads employees to cover up mistakes rather than fix them, and gossip which can erode the integrity of a project and even an entire company.

Celebrate successes. Celebration goes beyond just being fun or feeling good. Celebration of safety success reinforces the importance of the safety goal, it reinforces what it means to win and unifies the team around a positive outcome, and builds momentum for success.

A safety culture will outperform any safety program, safety strategy or safety measure 100% of the time. Could you use some help with your Company's safety culture?

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