How many times have you heard these six words: It is all about safety culture? You might say “too many,” but is it true? Is it important to have a strong a strong safety culture to be safe? What does safety culture really means? How do we get there? If we get there, how would we know once we are there and how do we maintain that standard? All of these are very pertinent and important questions when you want your organization to pass from a corrective and punishment type of business to a proactive and even a predictive type of organization.
First, we need to define safety culture as this, “Safety culture is the attitude, beliefs, perceptions and values that employees share in relation to safety in the workplace. Safety culture is a part of organizational culture, and has been described by the phrase “the way we do things around here”.” (1)
There will always be processes and procedures (SOP’s) that will guide us and tell us how to do things right, and laws, regulations and norms that we would have to comply with. However, even if we follow these SOP’s and comply with all regulations, if management, employees, contractors and vendors are not really committed to safety, at some point a breakdown will happen. This is when an accident and even a fatality can happen. It does not mean that an organization with a strong safety culture is immune to accidents and/or fatalities, but by far is less likely to present one.
Management Role in Safety
Management should be the first link in the chain to commit to safety in order to achieve a higher safety culture. This commitment can be reflected by creating a safety and health company policy, mandatory safety directives, as well as adding resources that are directly linked to safety. In other words, money and time would be used directly to create and improve safety efforts and programs. It is important for management to set the example to employees. This will create a downhill snowball of good actions. We all know that there is nothing sadder than hearing an employee say, “Why should I have to comply with XY or Z if my supervisor and/or the general manager doesn’t have to participate?
Creating a Good Safety Culture
A paramount safety culture will only develop over time as a result of many factors, including a strong safety management system, a good work environment, and a trained workforce. In the end, you will realize your safety culture is thriving if you see employees following safety procedures during the day-to-day tasks. The safety program should not just become policies on a bookshelf. You should see an increase of employees voluntarily reporting hazardous conditions and near misses. In the long run, that would tell you that your company is on the right track when it comes to safety.
Safety training is very important if you want to achieve a higher level of safety at your workplace. A workforce trained in both their tasks and safety topics will develop a better situational awareness and a higher commitment towards the job, company, and their co-workers.
As humans, we all respond to incentives, either positive incentives or negative. But, be careful! Use negative incentives only if you have to correct a repetitive bad behavior of an employee that may result in harm to him/her or to fellow workers. On the other hand, always try to reinforce the positive incentive. Why? Nine out of ten times, people in our lives will let us know when we are doing something wrong. However, by complimenting workers for positive safety behavior, it motivates us to always be better and therefore the safety culture at our workplace will increase and will last over time.