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It’s one thing to develop a workplace safety program, but developing a workplace safety culture is another matter entirely.
A safety program can be built in a few meetings. A whole new culture involves diligent work and ongoing cooperation at all levels. Here’s how EHS departments can build successful safety cultures and improve on the cultures they already have.
So, what is safety culture in the workplace?
Safety culture is a product of individual and group efforts in the workplace. It’s the attitude or beliefs that employees share in relation to the handling of safety issues in the workplace.
Fostering a proactive approach towards workplace safety is fundamental to cultivating a culture of safety. The definition of safety culture and how it applies in the workplace is about more than just establishing safety policies; it’s also about how you handle safety issues when they arise.
How well do you listen to your employees when they bring up problems? Successful workplace safety cultures are two-way streets. In today’s world of social media and business savvy, employees are no longer willing to tolerate a “my way or the highway” approach.
Cooperation and openness are the foundations of a positive safety culture in the workplace. You can put in all the policies you want. If you don’t prove to your employees that you’re willing to step up to the plate to keep them safe, those policies won’t mean much.
Here are three things you need to start building a strong safety culture.
1. Forward-Looking Accountability
Many people think accountability is synonymous with blame. When accountability is done right, it has an entirely different focus.
Backward-looking accountability is the type that involves blame. In this type of accountability, you’re more focused on assigning blame to someone for making a mistake than preventing the mistake from happening again. Sometimes, blame is helpful. But if it devolves into a witch hunt, it’s no longer a learning experience.
Instead, strive for forward-looking accountability. This type of accountability focuses on the changes that need to be made to prevent the same mistake, rather than reprimanding an individual for making a mistake.
Everyone likes to believe they’re a good boss. But building and improving safety culture starts by looking within.
Companies with strong safety cultures aren’t reactive. They don’t need to be. Safety is a part of daily activity–and a part of day-to-day management that leadership recognizes as an ongoing responsibility.
Unfortunately, many managers get too caught up in safety metrics to move beyond reactivity. Metrics do play an important role in your safety culture–they tell you what you need to improve. But if you want to improve those metrics, you have to look past them. Look at root causes and see how you, as a manager, can help eliminate problems before they arise.
3. Strong Relationships
In case you hadn’t already guessed, strong relationships are the bedrock of any lasting effective safety culture.
If your employees don’t believe that they can have honest conversations with you, they won’t feel comfortable coming to you with problems. And if they don’t feel comfortable coming to you with problems, nothing will ever change.
The good news is that being a good leader and building good relationships go hand-in-hand. Don’t just point out problems–point out good work as well. Seek understanding and listen actively when problems arise. Seek feedback on your own effectiveness–and act on the feedback you receive.
Workplace safety initiatives and injury prevention are worthy of serious investments. By creating a safe workplace and making it your top priority, your organization can prevent injuries and improve operational efficiency. You can also help employees stay informed about various ways to keep the environment safe through proper workplace safety techniques. By following the tips below, you can help ensure your staff is committed to building a safe work environment for everyone.
What makes a safety culture succeed? Is it a list of policies? Your PPE? Your number of incidents?
The drivers behind a successful safety culture are complex and how to improve the safety culture within your organization involves a multifaceted approach. . They essentially boil down to how you communicate safety and how your employees perceive safety in relation to management priorities. As such, evaluating your safety culture is all about assessing context clues.
Here’s how to evaluate a safety culture in three easy steps.
When determining how to improve the safety culture in your organization, the first step is to take a long, hard look at your health and safety procedures, along with your safety programs and policies. This sounds simpler than it is in practice.
We’re talking about taking a deep dive into all of your documentation. These are the documents that spell out the real lay of the land for your communications channels, work order processes, incentives, and incident investigation, among other processes.
This is also the home of your program language, which is more important than you think. Remember, your programs are the first tool of safety communication. If your programs are designed in a way that is inherently punitive and the language reflects this, you’re already at a disadvantage when trying to encourage a culture of openness and communication.
This leads into the second step, which is communicating with leadership and employees. This is your first opportunity to take a step toward active culture assessment, and it needs to be handled with care.
A culture of employee engagement is critical to the health of your safety culture, but the role of management is more formative than many people realize. Employees tend to follow their manager’s lead, even through cues that managers don’t realize they’re sending. For example, ordering all employees to wear hard hats in a certain area falls flat if managers never wear hard hats in that area.
The key at this step is to assess how you’re communicating safety. In other words, what messages are your managers sending, regardless of whether or not they mean to? And how are your employees interpreting those messages?
Finally, take a good look at your safety training, as this is one of the most overt forms of safety communication you have in your toolkit.
Training employees demonstrates your commitment to safety, but it also gives employees clues as to the flavor of your commitment. If trainings are rote and tend to be doled out punitively, it tells employees that you think of safety as a box to be checked, not a core value.
When it comes to cultivating a culture of safety at work, the right training procedures can make all the difference in the world. Safety tools come in all shapes and sizes. Here are five techniques to help your team adopt a responsible attitude so safety becomes ingrained in your company culture.
1. Practice “Good Housekeeping”
Workplace safety is greatly affected by the tidiness of the work environment. From workplace ergonomics to literal tidiness, workers can be made aware of “good housekeeping” practices through a well-planned campaign. Use posters, meetings, and/or social media and emails to reinforce the overall campaign. These safety rules should be clearly communicated and consistently enforced to ensure they become a natural part of daily routines.
2. Perform Regular Job Safety Analysis
A job safety analysis (JSA) is a breakdown of every step involved in completing a particular task, along with the hazards that are present during each step. Finally, the actions your employees can take to mitigate those hazards can reduce incidents and improve overall safety.
3. Schedule “Toolbox Talks”
Toolbox talks are casual gatherings that focus on one small aspect of safety. They are very specific talks, and are often led by an employee. These are not long meetings, but rather 15-minute gatherings so everyone can bone up on particular safety issues you’d like to point out.
4. Rally the Troops Around PPE for a Month
The personal protective equipment (PPE) in use at your company is necessary when hazards just can’t be removed or avoided. Make sure everyone remembers the protocol for their PPE: what to use and when, plus proper maintenance.
5. Don’t Leave Your Contractors Out of the Conversation
Contractors who perform their work at your job sites are part of your safety culture, too. Everything that applies to your regular employees can be applied to your contractors as well, when it comes to safety.
On-site hazards aren’t the only threats to your safety culture. If you have remote workers, you still have the obligation of keeping them safe on the job. Keeping remote workers safe on the job is an up-and-coming challenge that many companies find they are not prepared for – or even realize they need to be prepared.
When employees work from home, you’re no longer able to control the quality of their work environment. Things like a suitable workspace, smoke detectors, and the absence of trip or safety hazards aren’t guarantees. But some states deem that this lack of ability to regulate the work environment is irrelevant.
You might not realize it, but telecommuters are covered by your workers' compensation insurance in some states. If a worker trips and becomes injured while on their way to check an email or breaks a leg tripping over a dog while trying to retrieve a briefcase from the car, your company could be held liable.
These examples sound a bit far-fetched, but similar instances have been ruled compensable. If you have remote workers, you need to consider the safety of their work environment. The first place to start is by checking your state’s workers' compensation laws and requirements, as these will vary by state.
Managing the safety of remote workers is new territory for many companies. The following best practices can help you integrate your telecommuters into your organization's safety culture.
Remote workers may not play a role in your organization right now, but that may change in the near future. Studies predict that by the year 2020, nearly half of the country’s workforce will operate remotely in some capacity.
Of course, the number of remote workers in your company will largely depend on your industry and job requirements. But even if you don’t foresee a burgeoning remote workforce, don’t think you’re completely immune to it. There’s a growing demand among workers for more flexible hours and work arrangements, which has heralded an equally growing flexibility of companies to offer such benefits.
No one’s forcing you to join these companies, but not doing so could mean becoming unable to attract or retain top talent. This is a huge problem for EHS leaders because high turnover and low employee satisfaction affect the strength of your safety culture. It’s in your best interest to start preparing for a potential shift now before it becomes a focus later.
Getting your remote workforce involved in your company’s safety culture should be as much of a priority as keeping your on-site team safe on the job. Their productivity and performance can still be affected by off-site hazards, which impacts your company as a whole. It’s up to you to keep them engaged, even when you’re not able to see them in person.
What kind of safety culture do you have? Like any other form of culture, safety cultures are quite diverse, as are the approaches to culture. The way in which you think about culture, and the way in which you enact culture, has a profound impact on how your organization handles safety.
Having the right framework is a good place to start, especially if you’re looking to improve your safety culture. The LEAD safety culture model and the Dupont Bradley Curve are safety culture models that offer a markedly different approach (leadership in one, mentality in the other). Regardless of what fits your organization, both options offer a smarter way to conceptualize culture–and realize growth.
The LEAD safety culture model focuses on the skills that make an effective safety leader, summarized by the acronym LEAD:
Each of these skills drives a particular mindset, which can be categorized in one of two dimensions: promote/prevent or flexibility/stability. A promotion focus is about emphasizing achievement and proactivity, while a prevention mindset is about taking a careful approach to work. A flexibility mindset means workers are more receptive to change in the workplace, while a stability mindset means that workers draw on established ways of doing things to plan work in advance.
The LEAD safety culture model is broken into four phases:
At each phase, the model focuses on learning from the workforce and leveraging their support to communicate between management and employees and get employees involved in implementing a safer work culture.
The DuPont Bradley Curve is an old safety model proposed in 1994 by Vernon Bradley, when DuPont CEO Ed Woolard put together a team to develop a system that would allow sustainable and lasting improvements in organizational safety.
The idea is to help organizations understand where their safety culture is in development, where their current culture falls short, and what they can do to grow.
The curve is displayed on an XY graph, with the X-axis showing relative culture strength and the Y-axis showing injury rates, the curve sloping down from the high point of the Y-axis to the furthest point of the X-axis.
In the Bradley Curve, there are four stages of organizational safety maturity:
In the reactive stage, organizations believe accidents are inevitable, safety is based on instinct, and no one takes responsibility. In the dependent stage, people view safety as following the rules, and responsibility for safety is placed solely on safety overseers. In the independent stage, employees and managers at every level take individual responsibility for safety, believing safety is achieved when everyone looks after themselves. Finally, in the interdependent stage, employees and managers take collective action as teams, believing safety is part of the shared culture of an organization and that a zero-injury rate is an achievable goal.
In this sense, the Bradley Curve is very much a behavior-based model. It looks to improve safety by changing safety behavior over time.
These safety culture models have one key feature in common: they rely on an organization taking action to see cultural growth. And to do that, you need tools that tell you where you stand.
With these safety culture examples and best practices, including deeper insights on how to improve safety culture at the workplace, you’ll want to apply creativity, patience and an open mind. This will help get the safety message across. Remember: cultivating a safety culture at work is a lot like growing a garden: it takes time, consistent effort and all the right conditions in place for growth.
If you have more questions about how to build a truly great culture, don’t hesitate to check out our safety blog for more useful ideas and tips.
Katy Lyden is a Domain Analyst and EHS Subject Matter Expert for StarTex Software, the company behind EHS Insight. Prior to her current role, Katy spent 17 years successfully leading EHS programs for several large companies within the manufacturing industry. Katy is a Navy veteran, retired Emergency Medical...
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