How would you describe your safety culture? It’s a difficult question to answer. We all want to believe our employees are working safely—no one wants to come to work and get hurt. We want to know that accidents, incidents, suggestions, and concerns are taken seriously. Here’s a question you should be able to answer—do your employees work safely because they “have to” or because they “want to”? That’s the key difference between a perceived safety culture and an effective one.
OSHA defines a safety culture as a culture of shared beliefs, practices, and attitudes that exist within a company to ensure the safety of all employees at all times. In other words, it’s the atmosphere created by those beliefs and attitudes that shape a company’s behavior. This atmosphere then translates into self-regulation and monitoring by all employees.
So, how can you create a positive safety culture in your company? It’s not as difficult as you would think. But like any journey you take, you need a plan for success. When developing a safety culture, there are several things to consider, including obtaining management commitment, creating a corporate safety program, and training everyone in the program on the policies and procedures.
Whether you are developing a new safety culture or refining your current one, there must be commitment from all those involved. Commitment from management is extremely important because they are the people who will keep the process on task, resolve disputes that may arise due to change, and provide the resources that are needed. When employees see that management is committed, they will join in the process of changing the culture to a positive one.
A crucial part of management support is being receptive to employee input and giving employees the means for their input without fear of retaliation. Employees are your best resource for concerns and suggestions for change because they are facing the issues continually. You may find that your employees have several great ideas for reducing the potential for accidents and injuries, and also for increasing production and efficiencies—both which have the ability to positively affect your bottom line.
Many very successful companies have dropped their incident and injury rates substantially through championing a safety culture that is built on employee empowerment. Employees need to know unsafe acts and conditions are not acceptable and they are authorized to stop the work if there is a safety hazard that is immediately dangerous to their life or health. Also, empowering employees to come up with solutions and lead the way to positive change ise encouraged.
Develop a Corporate Safety Program
The most important part of developing your corporate safety program is a safety statement signed by your highest ranking corporate official. It should be posted so employees and visitors can see it—another way of demonstrating management commitment.
A properly developed corporate safety program includes written programs and procedures that address topics including, but not limited to, job site accident and incident investigations, procedures for fall protection usage, lockout/tagout, and how to respond to an emergency. There are many resources available to assist with this online, such as OSHA. The safety program cannot just be a ring binder sitting on a shelf—it has to be visual and in a constant state of updating and revision as the regulations and your culture change.
As employees start to learn and become more aware of their safety and the safety of their fellow coworkers, the culture will begin to change to be more responsive and positive. It is very important for success that ALL employees receive training, including management. If management does not participate in the training it will send a negative message to the employees and can destroy any credibility of their commitment. This will make any positive change a challenge.
There are several ways training can be given, such as formal classroom training, newsletters, handouts, and/or toolbox talks at the job sites every day—which is also a great way to reinforce the more formal training subjects. Any way you choose to conduct training should be effective and documented. All training should include a sign-in sheet with employee signatures stored in paper or electronic format. Training records are almost always asked for by OSHA during on-site inspections—especially if their presence is the result of an accident.
A positive and productive safety culture is important in today’s business world. Begin with management commitment, employee involvement, and a plan, and the journey will lead to change for the better for your employees and your business. You can do it!