12 Core Attributes of a World-Class Safety Culture
Whether you’re building a safety culture from the ground up along with your company, or adding a new emphasis on safety to an already established business, the ingredients for success are the same.
A strong safety culture starts at the top with the management team. If the management team makes safety a priority and leads by example, employees are more likely to follow suit. Here are some ways that management can set the tone for safety:
Involve all levels of management: From the CEO to line supervisors, anyone in a management or leadership role should be educated and passionate about safety and specifically their company’s safety culture. Management should walk alongside line supervisors, teaching them how to engage with employees and lead them successfully. Any management role that doesn’t spend time on the floor or out on the jobs isn’t going to get the full picture of safety.
Continually remind all employees about safety: You can’t talk too much about safety. Start each employee meeting with safety reminders and offer frequent opportunities for employees to refresh and retrain on safety. And don’t just focus on what to do or what not to do; reinforce why safety is important. You have to change employee negative employee attitudes on safety, including the belief that fast work is better than safe work and a lack of incidents makes them invincible.
Support safety supervisors and professionals: Every member of the management team should defend and support any safety employees in the company. If employees don’t see management supporting safety supervisors, they won’t take safety seriously either.
Active Safety Committee
Safety training and discussions should not become just another thing that an employee has to check off their to-do list. The safety committee should accurately represent the full array of your workforce roles, primary languages, and employee types. Your safety committee should meet regularly and offer value-added activities to employees so that the employees will want to engage. Other components of a productive safety committee include:
Variety of viewpoints: Make sure your safety committee is made up of employees from every area of your company. You’ll want to have representatives from all levels, from management down to line workers. While it would be ideal if everyone on the committee was passionate about safety, you need to have at least one or two “cheerleaders” who can keep the momentum going.
Clear purpose and organization: Follow the standard procedures for committees and meetings, creating a mission, bylaws, procedures, and goals. Set up meetings at the same time each month and follow the same basic agenda for each meeting. Having these outlined will help your committee focus on safety and not get lost in the details of running a committee. Being highly organized does not equal boring, however; make the meetings interactive and interesting with outside speakers, opportunities for conversation, and hands-on activities.
Follow through and accountability: All that talk is worth nothing if you don’t follow through with action. End each meeting with actionable items and someone assigned to fulfill those action items. Everyone on the committee, not just the chair, should be committed to keep everyone on track and accountable.
Apply Behavior-Based Safety
Depending on which stats you look at, unsafe behaviors cause anywhere from 80 percent to 98 percent of all workplace accidents. By adopting a behavior-based safety culture, companies can reduce workplace accidents. Behavior-based safety is a comprehensive look at safety and focuses on the behaviors of employees. It looks closely at accidents caused by unsafe behaviors and develops ways to change those behaviors and prevent injuries.
Behavior-based safety programs designate observers, who are employees trained to conduct on-site safety reviews. These observers watch every employee, making a list of behaviors needed to complete the job and a list of unsafe behaviors they observe. This checklist is then used by supervisors to check that workers under their watch are performing their jobs correctly and safely.
Include a system that monitors the quality of safety conversations being held and how all employees act in regards to safety. Rather than just reporting unsafe conditions, make note of what behaviors could change to improve those unsafe conditions.
The process of creating a behavior checklist shouldn’t be a one time deal; set up a schedule to revamp the checklist every few weeks or months.
Human and Organizational Performance
Sometimes called “New View” or Safety-II, Human and Organizational Performance (HOP) strives to use social sciences to create better systems. Managers who adhere to the HOP philosophy work to change not just their behaviors as a leader, but their beliefs toward their employees and leadership.
Essentially, HOP calls leadership to put themselves in their employees’ shoes. If you’ve never operated heavy equipment, you won’t have the necessary knowhow to create safety rules about operating heavy equipment. HOP pushes management to become educated on every job in their company and use that education to shape a safety plan.
Discovering these details is done through Operational Learning, where you learn directly from those doing the work. Another aspect of HOP is Learning Teams, which brings together those doing the work and those creating the safety systems together onto one team to put together a proactive or reactive safety plan. A HOP-inspired safety plan looks at systems as a whole rather than just individual workers or machines.
These new ways to look at safety have filtered into safety management systems, which are programs companies use to promote safety and reduce risk. The systems approach of HOP is seen throughout the ANSI Z10 standard (OSH Management) and ISO 45001 standard, as well as Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety management recommendations.
A key part of your safety culture is frequent training opportunities. Make it easy for employees to attend training sessions by offering after-work or weekend classes, or even providing paid time off for training. Online safety training sessions can also be helpful for making sure employees can get the training done.
The National Safety Council has a ton of resources available for companies including safety training modules, training packages, and on-site and online classes. Track employee completion of any training, classes, and workshops to ensure that all employees are informed of safe work practices.
Safety training should also include teaching supervisors and management on how to lead behavior-based safety conversations with employees. Leaders should be able to effectively convey how important safe behaviors are to the overall safety of the company. They should also practice what they preach.
Instead of just relying on incidents as the only metric for safety, companies should use leading indicators to measure success and/or failure While both lagging and leading indicators can provide feedback on your safety program, leading indicators look forward and allow a company to be proactive. Leading indicators help gauge the health of the organization’s safety culture and alert management to unsafe trends. Implement leading indicators in your safety reporting to get a comprehensive look at how your company is performing when it comes to safety.
Some leading indicators that are most helpful include:
Near-miss reporting: While often used as a lagging indicator, near-miss reporting gives you the ability to investigate and correct unsafe conditions and trends before they happen again. By studying near-miss incidents, you can see what went wrong, what prevented it from escalating to a full incident, and what you can do to prevent it in the future.
It also helps to know the difference between a near-miss, an actual incident, and an unsafe condition. A near miss is a circumstance when no one actually gets hurt, but the potential for injury was imminent. An actual accident occurs when a worker is actually injured because of safety issues. Unsafe conditions lead to near misses and actual accidents; employers should pay close attention to them and take proactive steps to keep them from occurring in the future.
Corrective action completion: Take action quickly once an unsafe condition or incident is reported. Investigate and correct as soon as possible so that employees, shareholders, and the public see you take safety culture seriously.
Safety Recognition Programs
Instead of rewarding all environment, health, and safety activities, only recognize with incentives and rewards those employees that go above and beyond. Encourage and support all employees performing these basic EHS safety activities, but they should know these are expected as part of their job. You don’t have to and shouldn’t reward everyone, but you should show appreciation for everyone doing their part.
The employee safety committee should play a key role in safety recognition program ideas, implementation, and operation. Because they are employees themselves, they’ll have a better pulse on what types of recognition is most motivating to employees.
No matter what your recognition program looks like, never reward employees for covering up incidents. A safety recognition program should never discourage incident reporting but rather be motivating enough to encourage more incident reporting.
Any safety recognition program should be sustainable. Many safety recognition programs have started strong but petered out, becoming routine, ineffective, and useless. Just as you evaluate safety training programs, assess your safety recognition programs to improve and keep the programs motivating.
Never stop learning, growing, and improving. Each company should perform frequent audits to identify new safety hazards. Constructive cultures constantly evolve and change as needed, improving processes and behaviors based on the findings of each new safety audits. Safety experts agree that complacency kills; don’t rest easy on low incident rates and few accidents. Companies should also strive to improve their safety cultures every single day.
Provide frequent training sessions, continuing education classes, and other ways for employees to keep growing and learning. Frequently update your company’s behavior checklists and adapt to the growing needs of your company and its employees.
Employees Who Are Comfortable Speaking Up
Your safety culture should make employees comfortable speaking up when they see safety hazards or unsafe behaviors. Employees shouldn’t fear retaliation from management or other employees for saying something when they see something.
Consider implementing a whistleblowing system or another anonymous way for employees to report unsafe behavior. Work to create a system of positive reinforcement rather than discipline. The fear of discipline for messing up or reporting a mess up can actually be more detrimental, as that fear could lead to hiding issues rather than bringing them out in the open. Positive reinforcement also builds trust, increases morale, and promotes employee engagement.
It takes money to make money and it takes resources to make your safety plan work. Be sure that your company’s budget includes money to cover safety programs. These funds cover everything from safety committee meetings to safety training to rewards and incentives for employees.
Consider Contractors, Customers, and Competition
A company’s safety culture should extend beyond the walls of the factory and worksite. Involve your contractors and customers in discussions about safety, gauging what safety practices would make them more likely to do business with you.
You should also be willing to share safety best practices with competitors because a safer industry is good for everyone. The oil and gas industry saw this play out. Those companies with a flourishing record of safety were successful, while those who were unable or unwilling to develop their culture found themselves failing in the industry.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened a committee to study the cultures of the offshore oil and gas industry. In 2016, it published a report based on the findings. Several of the recommendations that came out of the report spoke to the importance of sharing of experiences, information, research, tools, and more related to creating a safety culture. The report encouraged more sharing of information to make the industry as a whole safer.
Open communication is key to all of the ingredients of a great safety culture. If the lines of communication — whether in-person, in writing, or online — aren’t open, employees won’t have clear direction and management doesn’t receive the feedback it needs to make the culture successful.
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