How Do You Establish a Safety Culture?

safety culture Safety Culture :

the ways in which safety is managed in the workplace, and often reflects “the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and values that employees share in relation to safety”[1] In other words “the way we do safety around here[2]

An effective safety program is much more than writing down rules and policies for employees to follow.  The most effective safety programs are those that establish a safety culture to which all subscribe.  The culture of safety is promoted by everyone, from the CEO to the newest entry-level employee.

In a successful safety culture everyone is accountable for their safe (or unsafe) actions.  Employees are aware of their surroundings and make a conscious effort to ensure that nothing they do will harm anyone else.  Violators of the safety culture are just as likely to be called out by their fellow employees as by top management.

A client of mine was a large foundry operation in south Texas.  The first time I visited the foundry; I parked the rental in the visitor spot on the south side of the shop building and walked to the large open bay door in the side of the building.  I knew the office I needed to get to was on the north side of the main shop building – so I figured cutting across the interior would save steps.

As soon as I put a foot inside the shop, I was stopped by a young man pushing a large broom.  He told me in no uncertain terms that I could not pass through the shop without a hard hat, hard toes, and safety glasses and ear muffs.  I tried to explain who I was and that I just needed to get to his safety manager’s office – to no avail.

Sheepishly, I returned to my rental, donned the appropriate PPE and was allowed to pass through the shop unimpeded – with a warning from the same young man to stay inside the marked aisles…

See also: Employee Safety Handbook vs. Safety Culture

When I got to the safety manager’s office I explained my tardiness as being the fault of the young man with the broom.  The safety manager smiled and told me that the young man had only been with the company a couple of weeks – and that he had a concrete understanding of the safety rules!

safety culture 2

How Does One Establish a Safety Culture?

  • Make safety a core value of your company.  Lots of companies have safety slogans or signs touting XXX days without an accident.  Many more pay lip service to safety without any accountability to follow the rules.  Only if safety is paramount in the minds of the workers will it become a part of the culture of your business.
  • Explaining why a safety rule is important is much more effective than saying, “OSHA says we have to do this”, or handing a printed list of rules to your employees.  Better yet, if the rank-and-file employees have a hand in establishing some of the guidelines for compliance and enforcement of the safety rules they are much more likely to follow them.
  • Make safety the first topic of discussion for every workday.  A client of mine erects security barriers for military and government installations across the country.  Each morning as the crew assembles at the superintendent’s trailer a short discussion is held about any safety concerns that the employees discovered the day before.  These are addressed by the superintendent with the assurance that they will be corrected that day.  A short discussion of the present day’s planned activities follows with cautions about any perceived areas of safety concern.
  • Allow employees to have a hand in the selection of personal protective equipment.  Once the requirements for personal protective equipment have been established using OSHA guidelines for the type of work, allow a committee of employees to evaluate the various manufacturers of such equipment and offer suggestions on which brand the company should select.  Believe me; the cost of PPE is minuscule compared to the costs of even one injury.  If employees have a hand in the selection process they are much more likely to use the gear.
  • Finally, hold all employees accountable for their actions.  If employees know that failure to follow the rules will have consequences that get progressively more serious with each infraction, they will be less likely to break the rules.  Be consistent!  Enforcing safety rules is just as important as enforcing rules on when to report for work or schedule a vacation day.  Managers and executives should be held accountable for following safety rules just like employees.

Establishment of a safety culture is a process that must evolve over time.  Keep focused on the important things and tweaking the program as needed.  Before you know it, a viable safety culture will be in place.

Employers Resource assists our clients in establishing a safety culture.  Our Safety Managers have years of experience in most types of business and stand ready to put their knowledge to work for our clients.  For more information on our services, give us a call at 1 (800) 866-8913. You can also learn more about our complete PEO Advantage here.

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