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How to Strengthen Your Safety Culture

Posted by EHS Insight Resources on July 2, 2015 at 4:06 PM

It’s one thing to develop a workplace safety program. 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.

Building a Safety Culture

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.

It’s not built on safety policies alone. 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 good workplace safety culture. 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.

2. Management

Everyone likes to believe they’re a good boss. But if you’re looking to build a strong safety culture, it 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 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.

Reducing Workplace Incidents

Workplace safety 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.

  • Visualizing safety: By posting flyers in common areas – kitchen, printing areas, stock rooms, and maintenance halls – you can help your staff understand proper safety techniques and provide them with different resources. Hang posters where your employees can see them so they clearly know where the first aid kit is located, along with fire extinguishers, fire doors, and fire alarms. Also, designate fire wardens to give updated information and check extinguisher expiration dates.

  • Demonstrating safety: When you have employee meetings, take a little time to have someone come in to discuss ergonomics, proper lifting, and ways to avoid hazards in a workplace atmosphere. You should have flyers made with details on workplace safety and proper lifting, or draft an email with details on proper lifting techniques, how to dispose of hazardous materials and fire prevention safety. Demonstrating proper ways of disposing toner waste cartridges or chemicals is another great way of showing how to follow safety procedures.

  • Teaching responsibility: Make sure to delegate team leaders to help with routine checks to ensure there are no hazardous areas. They should report things such as seeing overloaded outlets, spills or waste cartridges that haven't been disposed of properly. This can include things like improperly throwing liquids or glass in the trash.

  • Using ergonomic tools: Employees should be given access to adjustable monitors, wrist supports and adjustable keyboard trays. Reducing neck strains can help cut down on headaches and migraines.

  • Promoting sustainability: Encourage your employees to recycle by having clearly labeled bins at their disposal. That way you’ll know your staff is doing their part to protect the environment. They should also make sure all recyclable materials are separate from trash, and both should be taken out and disposed in their proper receptacles. Housekeeping staff should also be on board with your recycling efforts.

5 Ideas for Promoting a Culture of Safety at Work

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.

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.

Helpful Tips

With these safety culture best practices, you’ll want to apply creativity, patience and an open mind when it comes to getting 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.

Topics: Workplace Health and Safety, Safety Culture, Human Resources

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