April 19, 2018

When you think of company culture at your workplace, what comes to mind? Perhaps it's the summer barbeque or monthly birthday celebrations, but it doesn't have to stop there. When a company has a positive safety culture, there's a shared mentality embraced by everyone, from executives to the newest employees. It's a safety-first commitment that is integrated into all employees' actions, which helps to keep everyone safe on the job.

Having a positive safety culture can lead to:

  • Lower workers' compensation costs
  • Lower insurance premiums
  • Increased employee retention
  • A more engaged workforce
  • Better recruiting
  • Fewer lost work days
  • No OSHA fines or smaller chance of hearing from OSHA

In the first part of our safety culture blog series from our safety culture webinar, we're covering everything you need to know about a safety culture including its stages so you can see where your company stands. In the next part of this two-part series, we'll share how to create and maintain a positive safety culture. First, let's take a look what a safety culture is and how it benefits your workplace.

What is a safety culture?
A safety culture is the way safety is perceived, valued, prioritized and integrated in all activities in the workplace. It reflects the commitment to safety at all levels.

An organization's safety culture stems from many things. Your employees perception of your company's safety culture is influenced by:

  • Actions, or lack thereof, toward correcting unsafe behavior,
  • Employee training and motivation,
  • Management and employee attitudes.

Put simply, a safety culture is a set of core values and behaviors that emphasize safety as an overriding priority. If a company has a positive safety culture then it is more likely to have a good safety record. A safety culture stems from more than just a safety program though.

How is a safety program different from safety culture?
There are often misconceptions that if you have a safety program in place, then your safety culture is in check, but that's not always the case. A safety program is different than a safety culture. A safety program is a plan that outlines how the company will address hazard prevention and control. It's a blueprint of how specific activities will be handled at the company related to workplace safety. A safety program is essential to achieving a safety culture, but it doesn't always mean that you have buy-in from everyone or that it will prevent incidents.

On the other hand, a safety culture is a safety-first commitment that influences all actions at a company.

How do I get a safety culture?
A safety culture is not something that you can buy or obtain overnight. It's something an organization has to develop and maintain. (We'll give you the steps on how to do that in the next part of this series.) But first, it's important to realize that safety culture can be positive, negative or neutral. Its essence is in what people believe about the importance of safety, including what they think their peers and leaders really believe about the priority of safety, and that's a great place for you to start; take a personal assessment of how you view safety in the workplace and how your colleagues make safety a priority. Each company’s culture is unique to them and requires the cooperation of the entire workforce in order for it to be positive.

What kind of safety culture does my company have?

Now that you have a good idea of what a safety culture is, let's identify the stages of a safety culture: emerging, reactive, analytical, proactive and cultural. Keep reading to learn about each stage and see where your company stands.

1. Emerging: "We don't care as long as we aren't caught."
In the emerging stage, safety is focused on technical and procedural solutions to comply with regulations. Safety is not seen as a key business risk. The safety department, if it exists, is perceived as being primarily responsible for compliance, not as a resource for the whole workforce. Many accidents are seen as unavoidable and most employees, including management, are not interested in safety and don't see its value.

2. Reactive Stage: "Safety is important; we do a lot every time we have an accident."
In the reactive stage, safety is seen as a business risk. Management time and effort are devoted to accident prevention and attention to hazards is directly related to incidents after they occur. Like the emerging stage, the focus is on adherence with rules, procedures and engineering controls, not worker behavior. Accidents are seen as preventable and management believes the majority of accidents can be attributed to workers' unsafe behavior.

Safety performance is measured with lagging indicators, which are past performance statistics such as injury rates, and safety incentives are based on reducing loss time incidents. Management becomes involved in health and safety only if accidents increase. In this stage, employees may be disciplined for unsafe behavior and accident rates are near the industry average.

3. Analytical: "We have systems in place to manage all hazards."
In this stage, accident rates are low and may have reached a plateau. Management recognizes that employee involvement is essential for safety improvement and management has buy in from employees to reduce safety hazards. Workplace accidents are understood to be a result of many factors rather than one worker's actions. For companies in the analytical stage of a safety culture, safety performance is actively monitored and data is used to prevent future incidents.

4. Proactive: "Safety leadership and values drive our continuous improvement."
The majority of staff is convinced that health and safety is important. Management knows that a wide range of factors lead to accidents and devote resources to analyze root causes. Management puts significant effort into proactive measures to prevent accidents and safety performance is actively monitored using all data available. A healthy lifestyle is promoted and non-work accidents are also monitored because the company supports safety and wellness in and outside of the workplace.

5. Cultural: "Safety is how we do everything around here."
When a company establishes a safety culture, safety is a top priority. The company has sustained a significant period without a recordable accident or high potential incident, but there is no feeling of complacency. There is a wide range of indicators to monitor performance but it is not performance driven. All employees actively involved in the safety program and share the belief that health and safety is a critical aspect of their job. There is also group acceptance that prevention of all injuries, including non-work injuries, is important. The company invests considerable effort in promoting health and safety at work and at home.

Now that you know what a safety culture is and its stages, how does your company stack up? Building a positive safety culture takes time and commitment from management. Read the second part of our safety culture series where we cover the steps to do just that and tips to maintain a positive safety culture.