Creating a Culture of Safety

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and independent research both confirm that developing a strong culture of safety has the single greatest impact on incident reduction of any process. Because of these findings, OSHA stresses that taking the steps to develop these cultures in the workplace “should be top priority for all managers and supervisors”—regardless of industry.

Heavy-duty industries have extra incentive to develop safety cultures due to the increased potential for danger on job sites and around heavy-duty equipment.

Creating a Culture of SafetySafety cultures consist of shared beliefs, practices and attitudes that exist at an establishment. Culture is the atmosphere created by those beliefs, practices and attitudes, which shape our behavior. Factors that help create a culture of safety include employee training and motivation, management assumptions and beliefs, policies and procedures, supervisor priorities and accountability, bottom line pressures versus quality as the motivating factor, and action or lack of action to correct unsafe situations.

In a strong safety culture, all parties—including employees—feel responsible for safety and pursue it on a daily basis, taking actions to correct unsafe behavior in themselves and others. Companies with a strong safety culture usually have fewer at-risk behaviors, and as a result, low incident rates, low turnover, low absenteeism, and higher productivity and bottom lines.

One goal of any safety-culture change is to gain a shared commitment from all levels in the organization—from top management to employees—to embrace and internalize the vision. In order to do that, the focus must be on the process rather than individual tasks. The steps for success start with leadership buy-in, and then buy-in from managers, employees and any unions. Trust must be built and maintained and benchmarks set. Training needs to be supported by a clear vision and a steering committee that keeps the process on focus.

Creating a Culture of SafetyChange starts from the top down; company leadership needs to set the example and lead the charge for a safety culture to take effect. Specific roles and responsibilities need to be defined and set, and a system of accountability needs to exist. An ongoing measurement and feedback system that encourages positive change, and recognition, rewards and incentives, are essential. A clear change process when things go off-course and continual communication and support will ensure success.             

When communicating safety-culture change to get buy-in, tips to make your communications most effective include: keep language short and simple; use metaphors, analogies and examples to evoke a picture of what the vision is; communicate across multiple platforms and venues, including team meetings, newsletters, one-on-ones, break-room bulletin boards, and elsewhere—and communicate early and often; walk the talk (make sure that company leaders are doing as they say); and ask for feedback from employees when executing the vision and strategy (make it a two-way conversation).

Obtaining front line buy-in for improving worker safety is much easier than it is to get buy-in for improving quality or increasing profitability. A safety-culture change should be for the singular goal of improving worker safety. The by-products are bonuses: namely, more productivity and a healthier bottom line.

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