April 26, 2018

In the second part of our safety culture series, we'll share how to create and maintain a positive safety culture in your workplace. To recap, a safety culture is the way safety is perceived, valued, prioritized and integrated in all activities in the workplace. It's the set of core values and behaviors that make safety a priority. Visit the first part of this series to learn the stages of a safety culture and see where your company stands.

Having a strong safety culture within an organization promotes more than safety. It benefits worker confidence and retention, organizational behavior, and even productivity. According to OSHA, developing a strong safety culture has the single greatest impact on accident reduction of any process.

Build a positive safety culture in your workplace with these ten steps:

Step 1: Recognize your current system is not working.
If you've already implemented a safety program and are making some progress, but still see a large number of incidents or near misses, something is not working. At this point, you should re-evaluate your program and identify what improvements could be made.

Step 2: Define what safety looks like at your company.
This will involve finding specific indicators that can be measured such as the number of incidents, the number of safety inspections or the number of trainings held. You need to measure progress in order to align and motivate your employees. It's important to use positive reinforcement to achieve desired results.

Step 3: Start with rule compliance.
Make sure that all of your employees know the rules and are following the rules consistently. Focus on critical skills and rules, and hold everyone accountable for following them. Consistent rule compliance in all departments is critical in establishing and maintaining a safety culture.

Step 4: Target results, not completion.
Once you identify what areas need improvement, you can start to focus on involvement. For example, avoid assigning a training and measuring success by completion. In order to be successful, all employees must put learned skills into practice in addition to completing the training. The key is to put safety in action.

Step 5: Make a strategy that fits your workplace. Don't make your site fit the strategy...this is a disaster waiting to happen. Consider your employees' strengths and weaknesses as well as their workload when designing a safety plan. Getting your employees input can really help to make them feel involved and valued.

Step 6: Involve your safety champions.
Change is difficult, but it's easier when peers are involved in the initiative. Tap into your safety leaders to support the safety culture initiative. Make these leaders brand ambassadors and include them in the process. Many times, more employees will get on board when they see others accepting the change.

Step 7: Encourage people to take care of one another.
Teach your employees that safety is a number one priority, not just for them, but for their coworkers as well. Make it a safe place where employees can approach one another when they see risky behavior. Demonstrate and facilitate an environment where employees are willing to accept feedback or assistance when another employee approaches them.

Step 8: Make sure leadership reiterates the message.
Leaders set the tone and the culture. If your leaders aren't embracing the safety culture then no one else will. Leadership needs to be consistent with its focus and its message. Consistent messages and reinforcement builds trust in the culture and in relationships. It shows that your workplace is serious about safety.

Step 9: Maintain habit and culture. When behavior becomes a habit, it is practiced regardless of where a person is. When you maintain habit and culture, it becomes a way of life, which ensures sustainability. Habit and culture are the most efficient tools for excellence. Complacency is not.

Step 10: Be patient.
True change takes time and will not happen overnight. Creating a positive safety culture that works for your company can take trial and error. It takes consistency and hard work to keep it up.

Recognizing that your company needs a safety culture is a start. Taking a systematic approach starts with management being on board and fully supportive of promoting a safe and healthy environment. Management is responsible and accountable for the safety behavior of the company. Their goal should be to get employees involved in safety and create an environment in which employees really understand the value of safety. We've outlined some management and employee responsibilities below.

Management is responsible for:

  • Being role models in the workplace
  • Setting the tone and establishing the culture
  • Ensuring regular safety inspections and adherence
  • Managing safety orientation and training, including specialized training
  • Performing incident investigations
  • Hiring safety professionals or tasking employees with safety duties
  • Identifying and remedying hazards

Employees are responsible for:

  • Being active members of their work environment
  • Being accountable for their own safety
  • Working as a team to make safety a priority
  • Following safety rules and requirements
  • Developing and maintaining safety habits
  • Voicing concerns and ideas regarding safety procedures
  • Identifying and remedying hazards

Now that you know how to build a safety culture and what everyone's responsibilities are, see what it takes to maintain a positive safety culture.

Hazard identification and remediation:
The entire workforce - management and employees alike - are responsible for actively pursuing the identification and remediation of hazards. Help facilitate an open environment where all employees feel comfortable reporting hazards or fixing them when possible. If employees do report a hazard, make sure you follow up with them on how it was remedied. This not only creates a safer workplace, but it improves employee engagement as well. Employees who believe management takes care of hazards are more willing to participate fully in safety initiatives.

Employee involvement:
It's important that employees feel that they are involved in the safety conversations. Asking their opinion, always being open to feedback and communicating any decisions being made are crucial. Employees should also feel confident sharing feedback with each other, whether it's positive or negative.

No blame system:
Instead of placing blame on someone for incidents or near-misses, use those moments to improve and implement corrective measures. Often when people engage in at-risk behaviors that lead to incidents, there are organizational systems and practices that inadvertently encourage those practices. It is important to uncover those and make necessary changes.

Trusting relationships:
Trust is an essential component of an effective safety culture. Mistakes and errors, while unfortunate, provide invaluable learning. Employees who have good working relationships with management are more likely to speak openly and honestly about what is working, what is not and what still needs to change. They are also more engaged in other aspects of safety.

Safety as a habit: Demonstrate that safety is a priority. Take the time for hands-on training and even re-training when necessary. The goal is for all employees to understand that safety is a core value of the company.

Celebrate success:
You and your employees need encouragement and motivation to continue working toward preventing incidents and learning from them, if they do occur. Don't focus on a great safety record, but also on what is being done every day to help achieve this record. Your employees need to know that they are doing the right thing and that management is supporting them along the way.

Positive reinforcement: There is a lot of power in positive reinforcement. Using positive reinforcement of desired behaviors leads to behavioral change. The effects multiply quickly as all employees begin make those desired behaviors a habit and reinforce them in others. Positive reinforcement also helps to foster trusting relationships.

Encourage participation:
Management needs to encourage participation in the process. Leadership needs to reiterate that all employees are a team and are responsible for their safety and for each other. In order for the environment to work, every team member needs to be an active participant.

We've shared ten steps on how to build a safety culture, along with management and employee responsibilities and our tips on how to maintain a positive safety culture. How will you get started? A positive safety culture is ongoing work and takes involvement at all levels. Revisit the first part of our safety culture series where we uncover why it's so important and help you assess where your business stands. You can also watch our safety culture webinar or log into texasmutual.com to access safety resources.