Overcoming Barriers to an Ineffective Safety Culture

Supervisors need to take a tough-caring leadership approach to safety. In other words, employers must insist their employees comply with safety policies and rules because they care about the welfare of the employee and not because it is the policy. But, there are some counterproductive beliefs when it comes to safety. It is important to teach everyone about these false beliefs.   In this article, I will look at some of the common things.

Fear, Distrust, and Stress

According to W. Edwards Deming’s 14 Points for Total Quality Management, this barrier must be overcome first. Fear creates struggle between safety and job security. Excellence is rare in fear-driven cultures.  Teach management that to build trust, they must do things that make them “trustworthy.”

Lack of Participation

In other words, doing “just enough” to keep your job. Withholding positive reinforcement causes us to think, “Why bother, it doesn’t matter how hard I work.” Lack of participation is common ni a culture of ineffective consequences.  Management must be taught to give positive recognition for everything their employees do to improve the mission of the company: of course that includes safety.

Poor Communication

Effective leadership uses communication to establish and reinforce positive relationships between management and labor. Teach management and the safety committee that they should communicate regularly with their employees.  Supervisors should conduct regular toolbox talks.  Safety committees should regularly report their activities to both employees and management.  Employees should regularly report safety issues to supervisors and safety committees.

Lack of Accountability

Managers and employees fail to fulfill their assigned responsibility due to a lack of consequences. Accountability is more a function of leadership than management.  Teach supervisors and managers what effective accountability looks like: how it is administered.  Most companies do not really understand the elements of an effective accountability program.  Always recognize – discipline only when justified.

Lack of Intervention

Supervisors hesitate to intervene when they observe unsafe behavior. May be symptomatic of pressures, lack of support from top management.  Supervisors must be out and about, on the floor, and on the project: not stuck in the office. They should follow the “see something, say something” idea when they see hazards, unsafe behaviors and when they are impressed with safe behaviors.

Safety is Prioritized – “Safety First”

This means, until the going gets tough, usually towards the end of the production period, safety must be a value.  “Safe Production or No Production” is a value statement.  Values do not change.  Forget about prioritizing safety and insist it’s a value that will not change, even when we’re not meeting a schedule or quota.

Lack of Leadership

Supervisors and other leaders fail to walk the talk, serve as proper role models. People want leaders—they are disappointed when their “bosses” don’t act like leaders.  What can I say, teach successful tough-caring leadership principles to supervisors and managers.  Tell employees how they can demonstrate personal leadership.

Lack of Integration

The safety function and activities are considered separate from operations. Safety is not a topic at business meetings. Safety personnel do not participate in operational planning.  Safety must be considered as important as operations and integrated into all operational processes and activities.  Safety should not be considered as a separate activity.  The Safety Manager should report to the Operations Manager or Production Manager, not Human Resources.

Remember, it’s a big challenge to change a culture, and it won’t happen overnight.  Since culture takes on the personality of the primary decision-maker, it can take years to change.  Sometimes, it will only change when the owner or CEO leaves.

For more information on this topic, check out OSHAcademy online  course 712: Safety Supervision Leadership.