There is no right way to define safety culture. It is helpful to define culture and then to relate it back to safety.
AirBnb CEO Brian Chesky defines culture as “simply a shared way of doing something with passion.” This definition is useful in thinking about something as arbitrary as safety culture. While difficult to define, it can be relatively easy to observe a company values safety or not.
How much a company values safety can be observed through the words, actions, and attitudes of the individuals working in the organization. If safety is not valued, it will be apparent.
The success of a safety program depends on whether or not everyone within the organization values safety.
(Safety) Culture can be improved in a myriad of ways, and what each company, or even a department within a company, needs to do to improve can vary greatly.
7 Tips to Improve Safety Culture
Below are the seven tips for improving the safety culture at your company. Each of these tips involves a lot of work and effort to implement correctly. To drive significant improvements requires targeted and consistent efforts from everyone within a company.
Follow the tips below and begin to take action every day to take your safety program to the next level.
Tip 1 – Get Clear on Safety Goals and Communicate Them
You cannot reach safety goals if you do not set any. Setting a goal of not having any injuries in a calendar year is admirable but also extremely vague. Setting huge optimistic goals can actually damper your safety efforts if the basics of a safety program are non-existent.
If you do set a goal such as “Have no injuries in 2022”, communicate other goals or actions that will drive the behaviors that lead to achieving that bigger goal. Examples include:
- Employees wearing their personal protective equipment each day.
- Employees filling out required paperwork such as daily inspections or JSAs.
- Employees reporting hazards in the workplace.
- Employees attending all safety training sessions.
In addition to creating goals, writing them down, and communicating them, it is also vital to implement written policies and procedures to communicate the expectations of everyone in the organization when it comes to safety. If employees, management, and supervisors do not understand what is required of them, why would you expect your efforts to be successful?
Policies and procedures should communicate safety expectations and the actions that are necessary to ensure success. There should also be a progressive written disciplinary policy that outlines the consequences when the rules are not followed.
Tip 2 – Show Support for Safety, Don’t Just Provide Lip Service
Once you have goals clearly set as well as the expectations for the necessary actions needed to achieve them, everyone in the organization needs to take the necessary actions to reach these goals. Employees need to see that safety is important, not just hear that it is.
There is an endless list of what actions show support for safety. Examples include:
- Correcting hazards in the workplace.
- Coaching employees when they are not following the set expectations.
- Addressing safety concerns that employees may have.
- Management following the same rules set for the employees.
Attitude can drive behavior, but as employees get used to practicing safety, their attitudes towards it can become more favorable.
Tip 3 – Upper Management Support and Visibility
This tip relates directly to showing support for safety. If you do not have buy-in from ownership, upper management, or other key stakeholders, your ability as a single contributor to make sustained progress is limited. This reality is true no matter what your job title is. Once buy-in is achieved, get these stakeholders involved and visible within the safety program.
- Taking part in toolbox talks or safety training sessions.
- Walking the facility or job site.
- Leading workplace inspections.
- Coaching employees when unsafe behaviors or unsafe conditions are observed.
- The involvement of stakeholders in the safety program will demonstrate the value of safety to everyone within the organization.
Tip 4 – Drive Consistency in Your Safety Program
This tip relates to a few other tips found on this list, but it is worth expanding upon. If safety is not supported and focused on consistently, your progress will be limited and not sustainable. The goals and safety expectations must be bolstered through consistent support and messaging.
All employees need to be held accountable in a clear and predictable way so that they understand that deviance away from what is expected will not be tolerated.
If a supervisor or leader is impeding efforts in a particular area of the organization, they also need to be held accountable. It only takes a few bad actors in an entire organization to have a significant negative impact on the safety program as a whole.
Tip 5 – Communicate Safety Frequently
For a safety program to be successful, it needs to be focused on as frequently as possible. To achieve a world-class safety program, it takes more than just having an annual safety meeting.
Think of different ways to communicate safety. Use the free safety talks found on this site to find ways to communicate unique safety messages, such as the behavioral safety talks or Culture Bits. If you cannot make a lot of time to hold meetings, use payroll stuffers, safety posters, emails, etc. to remind employees of the importance of safety. The result of frequent safety messaging can be difficult to quantify but it is important.
Also, how safety messaging is approached has a significant impact on whether it will resonate with employees or not. Safety should not feel punitive or repetitive. Every employee is a unique human being that requires unique messaging to continue to develop their understanding as well as to be motivated.
Do not be afraid to go outside of the box when sharing safety messages.
Tip 6 – Reward Safe Behaviors
Implementing a safety incentive program can drive meaningful change in your safety program when done correctly. When these programs are not implemented correctly, they can actually hurt a company’s safety efforts. All too often, a company will implement a safety incentive program that strictly rewards employees to not have accidents or injuries.
These types of big goals are often vague when it comes to communicating desired actions and can incentivize negative behaviors, such as not reporting injuries when they occur.
Any incentive program should reward employees often for exhibiting proactive, safe behaviors.
Examples can include rewarding reporting hazards, rewarding employees who stop work when it is unsafe to continue, wearing personal protective equipment, completing safety training, filling out safety paperwork, etc.
Tailor the program to target issues that are currently a pain point in the safety program. Update the program as needed to address new issues as they arise and focus on continual improvement to avoid the program from becoming stale.
Randomly rewarding employees for great ideas, stopping work when unsafe conditions are present, or when employees become leaders when it comes to safety are also great ways to get others to step up in the organization over time.
Tip 7 – Strive for Continual Improvement
You can improve things that you choose to focus on. To continue to improve the safety program, you need to know what to focus on. Improvement is a continual process. Putting an audit program in place or implementing a safety committee are two ways to identify areas of deficiency within your safety program.
Once the weaknesses are identified, a plan of action can be put into place to begin to address those weaknesses. A plan of action should outline responsibilities and due dates for each action to address deficiencies that provides clear guidance to all employees involved in the improvement process.
As you work towards addressing these weaknesses, they will become strengths. Continually evaluate your program throughout the years to improve it.
There is no one size fits all approach when improving a company’s safety culture. It is difficult even just accurately to define safety culture, let alone improve it. Do not focus on trying to define safety culture, focus on what processes and programs will drive change. Identifying concrete ways to improve the safety program is a direct approach in how to improve the culture.
I hope that this post provides you with actionable tips that you can incorporate into your safety program to create meaningful improvement over time.
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