Culture, in general, is “the attitudes and behaviour characteristic of a particular social group”. In an organization, it is comprised of employees’ beliefs, values, and mindsets and how these influence their behaviour. It is how they choose to go about their jobs on a daily basis and why they act in this way.
One of the most crucial aspects of an organization is its safety culture. This is particularly true in manual work environments where incidents and injuries can be common. Safety culture involves the general mindset of employees about risks and how to prevent them through reporting unsafe actions, taking proper precautions, and so on.
As an intangible aspect of an organization, culture is notoriously hard to change. Yet the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says that creating a safety culture has the most significant impact on reducing the number of incidents and injuries in the workplace. What can be done to encourage this cultural shift?
1. Show support from the top
Support from head managers and top executives is crucial for any significant organizational change. It can sometimes seem as though managers announce a new initiative several times a year and then don’t follow through, which may cause employees to hesitate to significantly change the way they work.
To prevent this issue, executives must demonstrate their belief in the safety culture. They should communicate with employees on the matter and, more importantly, lead by example. If leaders inspire a culture in which they always practice appropriate procedures and report issues, employees will be more likely to replicate that behaviour. To gain management support for safety initiatives and ensure they'll be on board to lead by example, check out these tips.
2. Emphasize that everyone has a part to play
Humans have a natural sense of empathy and a desire to help and protect others. When an unsafe act is much quicker or easier than its safe counterpart, employees may be tempted to take the unsafe route. Demonstrating the impact this action could have on others, not just oneself, could help prevent this action.
It is the responsibility of each and every employee to keep themselves and others around them safe, whether that involves double-checking a piece of equipment, reporting an unsafe action, or admitting fault for a mistake they made.
Holding individuals accountable for their actions in this way will increase the sense of unity among teams and departments. A gentle reminder that a simple unsafe act can have a significant impact will go a long way towards creating a safety culture.
3. Formalize and communicate the desired culture
Depending on an organization’s industry, risk appetite, and management attitudes, an organization’s culture is automatically formed. To change a culture, it’s usually helpful to bring some formality into the process.
Cultural beliefs are often communicated through a company’s mission statement or values. These tell employees what to expect within the organization and whether or not they will be a good fit. At some organizations this is taken extremely seriously: the shoe retailer Zappos puts potential employees through a rigorous cultural fit process to ensure they meet relevant values, such as "Embrace and Drive Change" and "Do More With Less".
Structure some of the organization’s values around safety: for example, “devotion to best safety practices”. Communicate this culture to employees through written policies, meetings, or other method. Just be sure that employees receive the message and understand it’s to be taken seriously.
4. Provide training
This step is particularly important for complex work environments. Employees can be told to follow best safety practices, but this is of little value if they don’t know what best practices are and how to implement them in their work.
Provide thorough training on all safety procedures that should take place on the floor — don’t assume that workers automatically know them all. For particularly important procedures, staff should be regularly re-trained, perhaps on an annual basis. This also ensures that new employees are all on the same page. Training should be reviewed often to ensure compliance with new information or regulations.
5. Build an effective reporting process
The best way to encourage safe behavior is to implement a reporting program. Employees can report physical issues that are a threat to safety, such as a broken fire detector; an unsafe process that they believe could be improved; or an employee they oversaw performing a task incorrectly or unsafely.
An effective reporting system should have several options available for submission: for example, in-person, by phone, or online (sample incident report forms and procedures can be found here, provided by the Government of Canada). Depending on the needs of the organization, it could be beneficial to have an anonymous option. This will prevent employees from choosing not to report an event due to fear of repercussions.
Employees must feel comfortable reporting an incidents and that there is some benefit to doing so. Otherwise, they may not take the time to fill out a form, visit a OHS member’s office, etc. Provide support for employees submitting reports, and regularly encourage them to do so.
One of the biggest motivators for reporting is to demonstrate action: show employees that their issue is being resolved or otherwise addressed. If there is no belief that reporting results in some outcome, it is unlikely to be used.
6. Celebrate success
When the safety culture has begun to show results, congratulate employees. Show that management is pleased with the progress and encourage them to stay on the right track. A simple reward, such as a staff meal, may be in order to motivate workers to do even better.
Be careful, however: certain reward systems may cause incidents to go unreported. For example, to maintain a “Days Without Incidents” streak, an employee may choose to stay quiet about something they witnessed. Emphasize that reporting and truly achieving safety is always more important.
7. Maintain good relationships
In a true safety culture, all employees will feel comfortable contributing and communicating with each other. They will happily provide advice and feedback on events or near-misses.
Encourage workers to never blame unsafe practices on each other. Instead, each event is an opportunity to learn and do better in the future.
If you’re having trouble implementing a safety culture in your organization, ClearRisk may be able to help. Our risk experts can provide insight on any risk-related issue. Our software also makes incident reporting easy: users simply submit a form and the data is automatically uploaded into our secure cloud database, with relevant parties being notified. You can also track training details, near-miss information, and more. Want more information?