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Quality Creates...Perspective

Top 5 Requirements for Creating a Total Safety Culture in the Workplace

Rachel Beavins Tracy
by Rachel Beavins Tracy on Tue, Jun 07, 2016

total safety culture

According to experts, developing a strong safety culture is the number one driver of incident reduction in the workplace. But what does it take to actually create a culture of safety?

We know what it looks like—everyone takes responsibility for safety, proactively working to identify and correct unsafe behaviors. Incident rates go down, productivity goes up, and the business is on the fast track to higher profits and operational excellence. This is the ideal, but getting there? Not so simple.

To give you some practical context, here’s a list of 5 essential requirements for creating a total safety culture in your organization.

1. Organization-wide Buy-In
Getting buy-in across the organization is the most vital element of building a safety culture. That’s because individual engagement is a direct reflection of shared beliefs and attitudes, the very definition of culture.

There are several key areas to focus on in regards to building a total safety culture::

  • Top-level commitment. What leadership prioritizes is what gets done, and employees can easily tell when a so-called “commitment to safety” isn’t authentic. You can’t say one thing and then do another, preaching safe behavior while pressing teams to cut corners to meet production schedules. Workers need to know that safety never competes with other priorities—safety always comes first.
  • Employee participation in the workplace. Your safety record results from decisions made by individuals, which is why employees need to be involved in the safety process. Instead of having priorities dictated solely from management, encourage teams to make their own mark on the company’s safety vision. This could include employee-driven safety mission statements for individual departments, as well as soliciting feedback as a central part of the process.
  • Meaningful investments. When you look around, there should be obvious signs of your company’s commitment to safety. It should show in signage on your walls, what your employees are wearing and how they do their jobs. Meaningful investments also need to exist below the surface, in things like EHS Management Systems and your Employee Training program (more on that next).

2. Comprehensive Safety Training
Employee Training programs are a foundational component of your safety culture, ensuring everyone is on the same page and knows how to work safely.

Again, it’s all about showing genuine commitment. That means:

  • Not relying 100% on computer-based training, instead using in-person training sessions for critical processes.
  • Following through on Employee Training, leveraging EHS software to automatically assign training, send email notifications and perform follow-up testing.
  • Going beyond training on work procedures to include training on behavior-based safety. Teaching workers how to identify unsafe behaviors and give timely, appropriate feedback empowers them to take ownership of safety.

3. Full Communication
Open communication is at the center of any effective behavior-based safety process. This includes:

  • Timely, specific and fair feedback. Keeping the focus on safety as it relates to specific actions is much more effective at changing behavior than punitive approaches.
  • Accountable leadership. Managers and executives should always respond positively to any issues employees raise.
  • Stop work authority. Workers should be fully authorized to intervene when they observe unsafe work without fear of retribution.

Remember, communication isn’t all about giving corrections. It’s also about recognizing and rewarding safe behaviors, as well as sharing lessons and best practices so everyone can improve. For example, many companies send safety alert emails describing lost-time incidents or near-misses, helping everyone learn from mistakes.

4. Active Monitoring and Engagement
With so much data collected by modern EHS software, it makes sense to invest time in fully leveraging that data for improved safety performance.

Enterprise Reporting capabilities make it easy to:

  • View data on a facility or organizational level.
  • Drill down into specific departments, processes and events for greater insight into problems.
  • Use real-time dashboards and alerts to stay on top of issues as (or before) they develop.
  • Generate clear graphs with just a few clicks, which means faster decision-making and less time wrangling spreadsheets.

As they say, what gets measured gets managed. At the same time, focusing only on incident rates can lead to under-reporting. Focus instead on the big picture of continuous improvement, and the bottom-line results will follow.

5. Preventive, Risk-Based Approaches
Creating a safety culture is a journey, not a destination. Companies usually start small, taking steps to build awareness by putting up safety posters and warning signs. Then they’ll start addressing physical hazards, investing deeper in safety programs and training. Finally, organizations can shift the focus inward, working to eliminate unsafe behaviors and processes using Risk Management strategies.

In short, there’s a clear evolution from reactive, problem-based approaches to preventive, risk-based strategies. It can take years to get from one end of the spectrum to the other, but any company known for safety excellence will tell you the investment is returned many times over.

The need for a closed-loop, risk based process

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