It's All About Personality
Safety culture can be described as the personality of your safety program. Personality for a group of employees is demonstrated through behaviors. Behaviors are shaped by what they believe in, their perceptions on how the company’s systems work, and how it makes them feel.
A more popular definition of safety culture is geared towards shared beliefs, practices, and attitudes that exist at an establishment. It is the atmosphere created by those beliefs, attitudes, etc. which shape behavior.
Outside Influences of Safety Culture
Once companies are at the point of compliance, the best ones look forward to next steps. I am working through the upwards slope of compliance, and after finalizing policies and training employees throughout this year, my goal is to achieve compliance within a year or so.
My next step will be, where do I begin to craft the safety culture? What goes into the safety culture? What is my role in being a safety coach? How do I bring the facility to that next step?
On my commute to and from work I enjoy listening to the PreAccident Investigation Podcast by Todd Conklin. Something Todd said which I liked was, there are outside influences which impact safety culture. Unless these outside influences are fixed, the program can only improve so much.
Safety Culture Model
After step one, compliance, is achieved, a safety culture model can begin. I plan to take the model I discuss below; of course modifying it from learning more along the way!
It is extremely exciting and challenging to change a culture within a facility. There is always a sense of accomplishment when achieving any goal. Possibly one of the hardest goals to achieve in safety is a proactive, positive culture.
What It Takes
How is culture one of the hardest objectives of safety to reach?
I am just beginning to understand how to place safety programs in place to improve culture, however, I am learning more of the challenges are with conflicting personalities. I will need to work intensively in with intention to improve my marketing and sales skills to create buy-in from executives, management and employees.
Not only do I need to implement compliance, but I choose to implement a safety culture model. In order for this to be successful, I need to demonstrate the value of safety for my customers (employees)!! During each step of implementation within a facility, it is important to consider how will the proof of value be displayed. It takes a lot of time, commitment, patience, selling safety, and continuous effort to drive a culture to best-practices and forward thinking based.
What Goes Into It
Beliefs and attitudes will need to be redirected and trained to this new perspective of proactive safety. This is easier to do when management and employees work together to create a vision and goals. Here is the plan of action:
Establish a compelling vision for safety. As with any strategic planning, an organization’s vision needs to always align with its mission statement.
Start at the top. Starting at the top should come first with promoting safety culture. After a vision for safety is created and tied into the business’ mission statement, targets and objectives should be created for what the company would like to accomplish.
Targets may include: holding management and employees accountable to prioritizing safety, placing expectation and responsibilities to meet compliance and go above any beyond, communicating safety effectively throughout all levels of the organization, and placing enough resources and support to implement the safety program effectively.
Collect data to drive improvement. Managers thrive on metrics. Everyone is held accountable to the numbers whether it be production or quality. Generally, what is measured gets communicated and is emphasized to need improvement.
In safety, if an incidence rate is low, individuals may mistake that meaning there may not be inherent hazards present which need attention to mitigate. In order to avoid this type of thinking, showing metrics which are proactive drive a completely different goal. Just as if sales or production scores are low, resources are deployed to correct and improve these issues.
Establish a team and set goals. Who are they key stake holders? Who helps the stakeholders identify hazards to mitigate?
Having top executives, management, leads and employee representatives on a team show a powerful message, however, it is extremely important for management and leads to drive safety by example. They are who is enforcing it on a day to day basis with the team. Once management and leads have set the standard of behavior, their leadership trickles down to team members around them.
Goals could be driven from shop floor employees or management. Everyone should work together to identify hazards, report them and brainstorm as a team to offer possible solutions.
Encourage involvement: good relationships, discretionary effort, empowerment. Involvement is what will keep the safety program afloat. Employees are the ones doing the jobs on the production floor. Employees are aware of what the hazards of the job are. Employees need to be engaged and empowered knowing what they say is valuable information. Acting on employee information and rewarding discretionary efforts enforces the positive culture.
Personally, the only types of discretionary efforts I would reward are safe-behaviors and reporting of hazards which offer some insight on what could be done better.
Identify, assess and control hazards. In order for employees to identify, assess and control hazards, they should be trained on what to look for. Everyone may see a hazard each day, yet, think it is an acceptable risk. Sometimes it takes learning from a different perspective, such as from a safety professional, to think about hazards with another mindset.
Training a facility safety committee in hazard identification and control is especially important to gather information from additional employees.
Evaluate and improve. When goals and projects come to completion, new goals are set. When new goals are set, new leading indicators should be identified and tracked. It’s beneficial tracking a few leading indicators to show various behaviors a company holds employees accountable for.
Train. Train employees as much as possible. The more hands on, activity-based learning there is, the higher retention will be. Initially teaching about a topic from a video clip or through a lecture is okay, but not the primary source for employees to retain the information.
Whenever training on any safety topic, directly relate it to the work they do. Be as transparent as possible; train on past incidents, things you have experienced at home, stories you have heard or went through. The more personal the training is, the more memorable it will be.
Investigate. Root cause. The more complex an incident, the more complex the root cause may be. There are usually a few circumstances which line up to make the incident. Training employees who are charged with incident investigations is essential to ensure they can successfully identify a root cause.
Encouraging employee involvement in these learning experiences is a great opportunity to increase engagement as well. A union representative or a safety committee member may be present during incident investigations.
Record keeping. Record everything. Audits, inspections, injuries, near misses, first aids, property damage, safety committee meeting minutes, opportunities for improvement. These reports help to show improvement over an extended period of time and ties into telling the story behind facility safety metrics.
Reward positivity. As I have mentioned above, I would only reward safe behavior or an opportunity of improvement suggestion. I would also reward successfully meeting a safety goal and employees reporting near misses.
How To Measure Safety Culture Success
Mark Middlesworth at ErgoPlus made an amazing post on how to evaluate your safety culture. In 25 Signs You Have An Awesome Safety Culture, it gives a very simple and practical approach on how to measure where your current safety culture is.
After reading through these questions, I have scored my facility in where I believe their culture to be at. This gives me an approach which once I have my safety program within compliance, these are the next steps to go above and beyond.
It is critical to keep in mind that compliance is the bare minimum; having a successful safety culture will help to prevent injuries from happening in the future, by focusing on reporting hazards and correcting them before the incident happens.
In Safety Professional KPIs: Leading and Lagging Indicators I describe some of the benefits a company will achieve in going above compliance standards.
Identify the Identity of Your Safety Culture
Here is the culture survey Mark Middelsworth put together, I invite you to think on how you can use this to incorporate goals for your program:
- There is visible leadership commitment at al levels of the organization.
- All employees throughout the organization exhibit a working knowledge of health and safety topics.
- There is a clear definition of the desired culture the organization wishes to achieve.
- There is a lack of competing priorities – safety comes in first every time.
- There is visible evidence of a financial investment in health and safety.
- Opportunities for improvement are identified and resolved before a problem occurs.
- There is regular, facility-wide communication on health and safety topics.
- A fair and just discipline system is in place for all employees.
- There is meaningful involvement in health and safety from everyone in the organization.
- Managers spend an adequate amount of time out on the shop floor, where the people are.
- Participation rates are at an all-time high, indicating that employees are highly motivated and the marketing of health and safety initiatives is effective.
- Employees are actively engaged in health and safety initiatives, producing tangible results for the company.
- Employees report high job satisfaction due to the company’s commitment to their health and well-being.
- Safety is the first item on the agenda of every meeting.
- Employees feel comfortable reporting safety issues to their supervisors.
- Regular, detailed audits of the company’s health and safety program are conducted by an external auditor.
- Rewards and recognition of good behaviors are regularly given and serve to motivate continued health and safety performance.
- Safety is a condition of employment.
- Managers and supervisors respond positively to safety issues that are raised.
- Safety is viewed as an investment, not a cost.
- A high standard exits for accurate and detailed reporting of injuries and illnesses – nothing is swept under the rug.
- There is a concrete definition of what success looks like for your health and safety program.
- The organization has the willpower to make major changes when necessary.
- Safety issues are health with in a timely and efficient manner.
- All employees throughout the organization are empowered with the necessary resources and authority to find and fix problems as they see them.
There is always work to be done improving a workplace culture. This perhaps is one of the hardest tasks a safety professional faces. I am just about ready to begin posting about some of the resistance challenges I have been facing and what I am doing to push forward, accept certain circumstances, and keep a peace of mind.
I have seen examples of what highly successful safety cultures look like. Utilizing what has worked for others will help a lot with the resistance. Once a successful safety culture is achieved through commitment of all individuals within a facility, that will not be the only achievement to acknowledge. Increased communication, productivity, quality, and feedback can all be achieved. Put in the time, effort and commitment, it is worth it.
Emerson, Brittany. “5 Tips for Building a Safety Culture in Your Workplace.” Acadia Insurance, 2020. www.acadiainsurance.com/5-tips-building-safety-culture-workplace/.
Middelsworth, Mark. “How to Improve Your Health and Safety Culture.” ErgoPlus, March 13. ergo-plus.com/how-to-improve-your-health-and-safety-culture/.
Middelsworth, Mark. “25 Signs You Have An Awesome Safety Culture.” ErgoPlus, February 19. ergo-plus.com/25-signs-you-have-an-awesome-safety-culture/.
National Safety Council. “4 Barriers to an Effective Company Safety Culture.” National Safety Council, December 5, 2013. blog.nsc.org/4-barriers-to-an-effective-company-safety-culture.