We recently read an interesting article about the safety culture practices of organizations. The original author is unknown, but their message is clear. Read below to learn more.
Why is a strong safety culture important?
It has been observed at OSHA Voluntary Protection Program sites and confirmed by independent research that developing strong safety cultures has the single greatest impact on accident reduction of any process. It is for this single reason that developing these cultures should be a top priority for all managers and supervisors.
What is a safety culture and how will it impact my company?
Safety cultures consist of shared beliefs, practices, and attitudes that exist at an establishment. Culture is the atmosphere created by those beliefs, attitudes, etc., which shape our behavior. An organization’s safety culture is the result of a number of factors such as:
- Management and employee norms, assumptions and beliefs;
- Management and employee attitudes;
- Values, myths, stories;
- Policies and procedures;
- Supervisor priorities, responsibilities and accountability;
- Production and bottom line pressures vs. quality issues;
- Actions or lack of action to correct unsafe behaviors;
- Employee training and motivation; and
- Employee involvement or “buy-in.”
In a strong safety culture, everyone feels responsible for safety and pursues it on a daily basis; employees go beyond “the call of duty” to identify unsafe conditions and behaviors, and intervene to correct them. For instance, in a strong safety culture any worker would feel comfortable walking up to the plant manager or CEO and reminding him or her to wear safety glasses. This type of behavior would not be viewed as forward or over-zealous but would be valued by the organization and rewarded. Likewise, coworkers routinely look out for one another and point out unsafe behaviors to each other.
A company with a strong safety culture typically experiences fewer at-risk behaviors; consequently they also experience low accident rates, low turnover, low absenteeism, and high productivity.
Creating a safety culture takes time. It is frequently a multi-year process. A series of continuous process improvement steps can be followed to create a safety culture. Employer and employee commitment is the hallmark of a true safety culture where safety is an integral part of daily operations.
Top management support of a safety culture often results in acquiring the help of a knowledgeable safety person, providing resources for accident investigations, and safety training. Further progress toward a true safety culture uses accountability systems. These systems establish safety goals, measure safety activities, and charge costs back to the units that incur them. Ultimately, safety becomes everyone’s responsibility, not just the safety person’s. Safety becomes valuable to the organization and is an integral part of operations. Management and employees are committed and involved in preventing losses. Over time, the norms and beliefs of the organization shift focus from eliminating hazards to eliminating unsafe behaviors and building systems that proactively improve safety and health conditions Employee safety and doing something the right way takes precedence over short-term production pressures. Simultaneously, production does not suffer but is enhanced due to the level of excellence developed within the organization.
Building a safety culture
Any process that brings all levels within the organization together to work on a common goal that everyone assigns a high value to will strengthen the organizational culture. Worker safety and health is a unique area that can do this. It is one of the few initiatives that offer significant benefits for the front-line work force. As a result, buy-in can be achieved that enables the organization to effectively implement change. Obtaining front line buy-in for improving worker safety and health is much easier than it is to get buy-in for improving quality or increasing profitability. When the needed process improvements are implemented, all three areas typically improve and a culture is developed that supports continuous improvement in all areas. The following represents the major processes and milestones that are needed to successfully implement a change process for safety and health. It is intended to direct your focus on
process, rather than individual tasks. It is common to have a tendency to focus on the accomplishment of tasks, i.e., to train everyone on a particular concern or topic or implement a new procedure for incident investigations, etc. Businesses that maintain their focus on the larger process are far more successful. They can see the “forest” from the “trees” and thus can make mid-course adjustments as needed. They never lose sight of their intended goals; therefore, they tend not to get distracted or allow obstacles to interfere with their mission. The process itself will take care of the task implementation and ensure that the appropriate resources are provided and priorities are set.
Management processes typically ripe for improvement
- Define safety responsibilities for all levels of the organization, e.g., safety is a line management function.
- Develop upstream measures, e.g., number of reports of hazards/suggestions, number of committee projects/successes, etc.
- Align management and supervisors through establishing a shared vision of safety and health goals and objectives vs. production.
- Implement a process that holds managers and supervisors accountable for visibly being involved, setting the proper example, and leading a positive change for safety and health.
- Evaluate and rebuild any incentives and disciplinary systems for safety and health as necessary.
- Ensure the safety committee is functioning appropriately, e.g., membership, responsibilities/functions, authority, meeting management skills, etc.
- Provide multiple paths for employees to bring suggestions, concerns, or problems forward. One mechanism should use the chain of command and ensure no repercussions. Hold supervisors and middle managers accountable for being responsive.
- Develop a system that tracks and ensures the timeliness in hazard correction. Many sites have been successful in building this in with an already existing work order system.
- Ensure reporting of injuries, first aids, and near misses. Educate employees on the accident pyramid and importance of reporting minor incidents. Prepare management for initial increase in incidents and rise in rates. This will occur if underreporting exists in the organization. It will level off, and then decline as the system changes take hold.
- Evaluate and rebuild the incident investigation system as necessary to ensure that it is timely, complete, and effective. It should get to the root causes and avoid blaming workers.
With effort and commitment to a strong safety culture, you can significantly impact our organization by turning safety attitudes into safety actions.
If you have any questions or concerns about how you can improve your safety culture, give us a call. We have partnered with a safety expert to develop top-tier safety solutions for many clients.