We keep hearing all this fuss about “establishing a positive safety culture” but what is that, really? Wikipedia defines safety culture as “a term used to describe the way in which safety is managed in the workplace, and often reflects ‘the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and values that employees share in relation to safety.’” This concept seems so easy…so why is it so hard for many companies to achieve?
A poor safety culture typically goes hand-in-hand with many other business hurdles, such as high employee turnover, low employee buy-in, poor morale, an unhealthy workforce, a high number of call-ins and much more. If you are noticing these things, or seeing a high frequency of work-related incidents or employees failing to comply with your health and safety systems and policies, perhaps it is time to look at ways to invest in improving your safety culture.
There are many components of a positive safety culture:
- Commitment at all levels of the organization. Like everything else, safety starts at the top and must be filtered down to all levels of an organization. The owners and management teams of a company must have a shared vision and concern for the health and well-being of their employees, and therefore, must not only believe but express their commitment and expectations to a Zero Accident Culture (ZAC).
- A good understanding of health and safety policies, goals and expectations. Companies with a positive safety culture have specific safety plans, policies and guidelines that are established by representatives from not only management, but also the general workforce. These policies should not simply be written and placed in a binder on a shelf; instead, they should be taught and addressed each and every day, to all employees.
- A proactive approach to safety. How often do you address safety in your company? In order to establish a positive safety culture, try to get out of the rut of “forgetting” to address safety to your employees. You must evaluate what works and motivates your workforce. From the minute a potential employee is interviewed, through his or her orientation process and on a regular basis thereafter, safety must remain at the forefront. Companies with a positive safety culture continuously address safety before accidents happen, and they reward employees who are working safely using verbal and public recognition, small prizes and other incentives.
- A fair and consistent discipline system. If employees notice that their coworkers are getting away with not following safety policies and procedures, it will only breed a poor safety culture. Ensure that you are proactively assessing the workplace for hazards and disciplining for improper behavior. Although most of us do not like to discipline employees, safety policies are only as good as the disciplinary process if they fail to comply. Always remember that it is a mathematical probability that someone can only do something unsafely so many times before an accident occurs.
- Involvement of all employees. Your employees should know and feel comfortable bringing safety concerns and ideas to the attention of management. This should not only be done through your safety committee, but any time there is a concern. As a company, it is your responsibility to make all possible efforts to remove or reduce the hazard and risk of injury and follow up with the employee to ensure that they know you took action. Employees who notice that you are taking action and are committed to their health and safety will buy in to the Zero Accident Culture, and you will gain their trust more quickly.
While the concept of creating a positive safety culture is challenging and sometimes overwhelming, it is best to understand that this system takes time, hard work and dedication to establish. Start by taking small steps and setting both long- and short-term goals. You must get the right people on board by establishing a collaborative vision for your employee safety and health program and ensuring that management is committed to it. Next, you should assess your workforce and figure out the best way to implement the change. Find people throughout all divisions and levels of your organization who will commit to this concept and ultimately assist with its implementation and continued monitoring. Then, don’t back down—keep safety at the forefront at all times and work continuously every day to take steps to improve and ultimately achieve a positive safety culture. iBi
Amy Morgan is safety director for Kuhl & Company Insurance, based in Morton, Illinois.