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June 1, 2021

The why and how in building a safety culture

Jay Shelton

I think we’d all agree the most cost-effective injury is one that never occurred and injury prevention is the tool that drives the success. But simply providing basic safety programs will not get that done. You must elevate the engagement of your employees in safety to ensure success. Once employees are engaged in their safety, an awareness of safety develops and preventing injuries becomes part of the job and the culture of the organization.

Safety culture isn’t easy to define, but you know it if you have it or you don’t. In the simplest terms, you know if safety is understood and accepted as a “high priority”. The following are 7 common factors found in a true safety culture.

  1. Commitment to Safety 
    Making safety a core value creates a vision that the workplace will be 100% accident-free. This starts from the top down and includes everyone; upper management to entry level employee. But it’s not merely putting up signs and mentioning it during a once a year all employee meeting. It must be a standing agenda item in management meetings, part of the company’s constant vision, and a routine part of the business decision making process.

  2. Safety is Treated as Investment, Not Cost  
    Safety is funded properly and not viewed as a negative. It’s an investment in your employees and part of the cost savings program because it’s the “vehicle” to lower claims and insurance costs and increase productivity.

  3. Safety is Part of the Continuous Improvement Process 
    Resources and time must be set aside to identify ways to strengthen and improve safety performance.

  4. Training and Information are Provided  
    People who are properly trained in safety are more aware of how their actions can affect themselves and others. Posters and signs are useful, but not enough. Training can be done in different forms, but should be ongoing and part of the development of an employee.

  5. Workplace Analysis and Hazard Prevention are Done 
    Data analysis is instrumental in devising appropriate control and prevention measures. Developing Key Performance Indicators (KPI) that target specific safety metrics is essential to understanding where the issues are and what’s working.

  6. Workplace Environment is “Blame Free”  
    This encourages employees to report incidents (injuries and near-misses) so that corrective actions can be taken. It’s important to find and correct the root cause of the incident. This is the best way to prevent recurrences.

  7. Celebrate Successes  
    Recognition, rewards, reinforcement, and positive feedback are important. Celebrate successes both big and small. Rewarding managers and employees for their commitment to safety is essential in reinforcing the psychology of safety.

How can your company get started in developing a safety culture? It starts with realizing that safety benefits management and employees alike.  It starts at the top with the leaders of the organization. Look at the cost a lack of safety has on your organization both direct and indirect. Get employees involved in their safety by starting a safety committee. Then set realistic safety goals that are incremental and achievable and track the trends. Finally, rewards and recognition of safety performance reinforces the message.