Taking Safety Seriously – A Guide to Fostering Safety Culture In The Workplace

One Friday afternoon, Dan and Bob, two workers in a factory, are catching up about their weekend plans. Dan shares with Bob that he’s taking a vacation with the family that weekend and in order to do so needs to leave work early. That’s no problem, he says, because he’s finished early. Bob thinks about that for a second before realizing that Dan is almost always done before him, and his production numbers are comparable. Bob asks for advice from Dan on speeding up his efficiency. Dan then explains that he “Doesn’t really bother” with some of the safety procedures, stating that he’s never had a problem not using gloves and that vacuuming down a workstation after every single use is a waste of time. Bob is concerned about both Dan and other workers’ safety, and brings his concerns to you.

The Importance of a Safety Culture

The above situation illustrates that you have an issue with your “safety culture.” Safety culture is the overall attitude taken on by managers, workers, and your business as a whole with regards to the importance of safety. Usually, this importance is weighed against the importance of production and efficiency, and those two factors win out over safety. In actuality, studies have shown that workplaces with a strong safety culture are usually the more efficient in the long run because A) managers and employees juggling two goals are more likely to find innovative solutions that accommodate for both safety and production and B) the lack of incidents, injuries, and subsequent investigations due to unsafe practices don’t hold you up down the road when something goes wrong.

How can I Improve our Safety Culture?

So, you’ve clearly got a leak in your safety culture, but how can you make employees like Dan value safety as much as they need to? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Uniformity: One of the biggest reasons that workers don’t respect safety procedures fully is that their superiors (a yard foreman, a shift manager, etc.) don’t take them seriously either, or view the protocols as an inconvenience. Even if this is not the case, they may not be actively giving the impression that such things are important. In order for workers to feel that safety is important, your business must project the right attitude at all levels. Make sure managers consistently communicate that safety is more important than shaving a few seconds off of production. Heck, safety is more important than shaving a few hours or days off of production if it means someone is saved from an injury.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Don’t just tell employees over and over again how important it is that they use their PPE, lift objects correctly, and/or transport materials in a specific manner… show them! Posters and signs should be up throughout your workplace as reminders of these procedures. Sometimes an employee simply doesn’t know how to do something safely, and an instructional poster at the station he or she is confused about could make all the difference. This step also extends to your training programs; if you don’t have the time, assign or hire someone in charge of becoming an expert in safety and training your employees on a regular basis to keep ideas fresh in their minds.

Interact: By far the most effective way to get an employee personally invested in safety is to get them involved. Employees like Dan could benefit from sitting on safety counsels and getting involved with writing the safety protocols, or even leading training workshops. At first he may roll his eyes, but there is no better way to learn something yourself than to teach it to others, and employees who do this will start to internalize the safety values you want to instill and feel it is more important than before that they uphold them.

Be Flexible: Part of the “interacting” category should include being open to workers’ concerns or complaints about safety procedures; being the manager who is akin to the “because I said so” parent and doesn’t actually bother investigating procedures that are seen as frivolous doesn’t do your employee relations any good. For example, when Dan complained about cleaning a work station in between every use, you should make time to view the station after a standard use. Maybe after doing so you realize that there really isn’t enough debris or material build up to cause a problem, and you compromise by changing the protocol to a daily or twice daily clean. Safety is always number one, but being open to altering safety protocols to best protect and work for your employees is a way to not only show you’re serious about it, but that you’re also serious about listening to your workers, which goes a long way in fostering safety compliance.

Tony, Good Advice!

A safety culture is the reflection of all individuals and groups within an organization with the same attitudes, norms, and behaviors, giving priority of and commitment to safety as their number one objective.

When you have a strong safety culture, the following benefits have been seen time and time again including increased productivity, efficiency, improved employee performance, the company’s image, and moral. These benefits don’t happen over night, but when you have a workforce that’s willing to adopt the proper beliefs, the sky is the limit.

Kyle Holland, fellow blogger at Creative Safety Supply

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