In a Strong Safety Culture, Safety is Everyone’s Responsibility
- Safety cultures aren’t something you can create by just writing a check. They take dedication, time, and commitment.
- In fact, a successful safety culture also depends on having the right systems, processes, and tools.
- But the rewards for a strong safety culture abound. Lower risks. Higher productivity. Greater collective sense of ownership.
There’s a lot of talk these days about safety culture. It’s a popular buzzword, and it’s easy to see why. The term culture implies that ownership for safety is shared broadly. It shifts the onus from leadership to membership. It also wraps up a lot of complex elements into one easy term. This lends to the idea that a safety culture is something you can create overnight.
But safety culture isn’t something you can switch on and off. Nor is it a state of being you can achieve. Think about the word culture and what it means. As a noun, culture refers to a collection of practices, thoughts, and routines that are shared within a group. As a verb, to culture something means to provide resources and maintenance to encourage growth. Both of those uses are very apt when talking about a safety culture.
Cultures must be fed to thrive. There are critical elements that go into a successful safety culture. Some of these things cost money, others need time. What they all require, though, is commitment. Here’s a rundown of the critical resources you need for a strong Safety Culture.
Critical Safety Culture Resources
Your employees must have to be engaged if your safety culture is going to thrive. In a highly engaged team, the entire org is looking out for their well-being and the well-being of their team. Their eyes, hands, and brainpower make a huge difference. A study conducted by the American Society of Safety Professionals found that highly engaged workers were far more likely to follow safety procedures and use the right PPE. In fact, they are even more likely to confront colleagues engaging in unsafe behaviors.
Of all the resources we’re listing here, this may be the most difficult to deliver. Employee engagement is a sort of capital for which you can’t just write a check. It comes from good management, excellent HR practices, and a strong sense of duty to the well-being of your staff. If you don’t demonstrate through actions that safety is important—why should an employee take it any more seriously?
The irony is that stronger engagement could very well save a disengaged employee from injury. Engaged employees are more likely to follow every safety rule. They’re more likely to take wearing PPE seriously. They understand the perils that come with performing tasks that they’ve done many times. They know that just because a task is routine, doesn’t mean they can take their own safety for granted.
But employees are people. And people are often victims of the Optimism Bias, which lends us to think that because nothing bad has happened in the past, nothing bad is likely to happen in the future. This is the same cognitive bias that often leads people to undertake risky behaviors. It’s a leader’s job, in fact it is everyone’s job, to remind our colleagues that safety isn’t something we can just assume.
One of the most key elements of any safety program is time. Your Safety Committee and leadership teams need the time to fulfill their mandates. Also, think about all the steps necessary for them to fulfill their mission. Your teams will have to meet regularly to:
- Identify new and existing hazards around your workplace
- Find reasonable ways to mitigate or eliminate those hazards
- Develop safe work practices and procedures, training, and guidance
- Monitor the outcomes and push for continual improvement
At minimum, you need to apportion the time for your Safety Committee to meet regularly. Then, unless you have a team member dedicated to safety, they will need time to make the fixes they suggest. That might not be very much time at all—but it is time that must be set aside by the business.
It’d be hard to form a robust safety culture without providing the info your team needs. This information could include:
Safety training that is related to every aspect of a role. This could include chemical, power tool, kitchen/food, forklifts, and proper lifting safety. Training should be delivered regularly to everyone, not just the Safety Committee. It can be handled through an online system, DVDs, or through training delivered by a visiting or in-house expert.
Trends in industry safety. You’ll want to share news about newly identified hazards and trends in safety. Trends from the past have included ergonomics, silica dust, and even mold awareness. These can be worked into incident reviews and meetings.
Safety work instructions. Whether your team is lifting with a forklift, a pallet jack, or their own back, there is a right way to do it and a way to hurt themselves. Be sure clearly written best practices are saved in a spot where they can be referenced later if needed. A good place to put them is in the work area where employees will see them daily.
Equipment: You probably already have a good bit of PPE and other safety equipment. This is your cue to see where you could invest in additional tools and equipment to make your workplace safer. Some examples include lighting, anti-fatigue mats, lift equipment, new carts, storage/racking supplies, safer forklifts, insulated tools, stand-up desks, etc. It’s also a good idea to examine your equipment and facilities to identify anything that is worn or unsafe. Common things you will want to look for include:
- Gloves with holes and excessive wear
- Dulled box cutter blades
- Broken chairs and stools
- Dirty drinking fountains and restrooms
- Vehicle issues such as worn tire tread, poorly conditioned brakes, or compromised restraints
- Misplaced or expired fire extinguishers
- Slippery floors, loose handrails, and other trip and fall hazards
- Deteriorating plumbing, HVAC, and electrical infrastructure
When we say systems, we don’t (necessarily) mean software. You simply need to have administrative mechanisms in place that facilitate a strong safety culture. Whether you use a binder, a spreadsheet, a program, or a whiteboard, a strong system will ensure your safety programs are effective. These are the types of outcomes you could systematize:
- Employee suggestions
- Hazard reporting
- Safety corrective and preventive action tracking
- Equipment inspections (fire extinguishers, eyewash stations, exit signs, emergency lights, etc.)
- Safety discussions in team meetings
- Work procedures: Include how to do each step safely (is PPE required, do you need to unplug equipment first, are there guards or barriers that need to be in place, do you need tools or safety equipment on hand? Like with best practices, these are codified methods for handling things like leaks/spills, injuries, car accidents, or damaged equipment.)
- SDS updates – Have a system in place to maintain your chemical safety sheets. It could be software, or it could be a binder with paper.
- Workplace assessments – Check your worksites routinely. Look for hazards, improvements, maintenance standards, and double check locks on supplies.
- Tracking for near misses and hazards – Just because something didn’t get broken, and no one was hurt doesn’t mean that a safety incident isn’t worth tracking. Keeping an eye on near misses and other hazards is a great way of preventing an injury or incident. You might notice that, for example, there are always puddles in one specific area when it rains. In response, you can put a larger walk-off mat, put up wet floor signs when it rains, or add additional awnings to the entrance.
Management Investment in Your Safety Culture
As with employee buy-in, commitment from managers and owners can be a tricky commodity. The human and business tolls for workplace injuries are immense. They increase employee turnover and worsen skilled labor shortages and supply chain issues. They increase the risk of lawsuits and workers’ comp claims. So you’d think it was a no brainer that leadership would be all-in on ensuring that every workplace is safe.
But running a business isn’t easy. Safety is another moving part. It’s another chance to fall victim to the Optimism Bias, too. So sometimes owners, managers, supervisors, and other leaders need a reminder about why they need to stay invested in safety.
You can view safety, of course, as a duty set by outside regulators like OSHA. Workplace injuries are potentially costly from a legal point of view. But this is also about showing your team that you are personally, professionally, and financially invested in their well-being. It’s about using actions, not just words, to encourage good behavior, safer outcomes, and better success for you, your team, and your business.
Buzzword or not, a strong safety culture is an excellent barometer for organizational health. It’s a demonstration of your business’s commitment to the safety of its employees and customers. A vital safety culture shows through action, resources, information, and accountability just how highly you value safety and organizational health.