Creating a safe workplace is not simply a matter of checking off the boxes; it’s a matter of changing the corporate culture. Years ago, when I first became responsible for worker safety at my company, I realized that drastic changes needed to be made not only to our physical building and our workplace practices but also to the way staff viewed our workplace environment and what they understood their responsibility to be, when it came to safety. Any changes therefore would not only have to affect our guidelines and infrastructure but also the corporate intangibles.
Affecting change in this grey area, was not easy. It required research and by investigating the companies that had successfully created cultures of safety, we came to some key conclusions. Our research showed that successful safety plans had to be tailor-fit to the environments to which they were applied. But, regardless of the differences in individual corporate safety plans, all workplaces, with a culture of safety, share several common attributes. We decided that these attributes would be the basis for creating our philosophy of workplace safety:
Successful influencers of corporate culture let their employees know they are on board. The decision to create a culture of safety must come from the top and, to be perceived as genuine, it must be accepted by all management. That commitment must then be communicated to staff. But, it is not enough to simply establish guidelines and delegate responsibility; the leaders in an organization must embrace the change. This means being “hands on” in the implementation of the safety plan. It also means affirming the progress that is made and pointing out areas where improvements are required. Many organizations that have successfully embraced a culture of safety show their employees they mean business by bringing in 3rd party professionals to asses their work space and some will even award employees for milestone achievements in the creation of a safer working environment.
Creating a safe work place requires that managers first educate themselves on municipal, state and federal regulations. It also involves becoming familiar with the hazards at their location and the way their employees feel about safety. Properly assessing your work place may require consultation with a professional safety expert or an engineer.
True commitment to a culture of safety also requires an investment in an organization’s people. This commitment must go beyond simply what is mandated. Companies that embrace a culture of safety will provide education in responding to crises but also education on creating systems that prevent work place accidents. Employees need to know that they’re being looked after and key people must be trained to respond to emergencies and to assess potential dangers at your work place. Well-trained people are therefore a key to creating a culture of safety.
In order to initiate a successful cultural shift, employees must feel that they are part of the movement. From the first stages of creating a plan, there should be equal contribution from both management and staff. For this reason, most organizations operate their safety plans with occupational safety committee. Legal guidelines that outline how these committees should be structured can be found in the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Companies that have successfully driven a culture of safety have gone above and beyond in terms of inclusion. They include staff from all departments in their decision-making processes and value the first-hand-view they offer. They recognize that employees that feel engaged are more likely to bring about a cultural shift.
Openness and Transparency
A culture of safety must be open and transparent. Companies that prioritize safety must create an environment where employees feel free to make their safety concerns known. Employees must understand that their suggestions will not be subject to ridicule or retribution. All suggestions should be recorded along with the resolution they bring about. If the suggestions are declined, the committee’s response should include adequate reasoning for the decision. Many safety-oriented organizations will either post or email their meeting minutes to all staff. They also welcome inquiries into their safety practices and will utilize and welcome the feedback of independent professionals.
When safe practices become habitual, attentiveness sometimes wanes. A culture of safety, therefore, requires constant monitoring of both practices and systems. It is also important to frequently remind all members of an organization that safety is the top priority. All members of the team must be on guard for potential hazards. This involves frequent safety walks to ensure that standards are being met. To promote a culture of safety, an effective safety committee will also invite feedback from employees and examine systems with the goal of creating a safer working environment. A culture of safety demands that an organization view safety as an ongoing process and diligence is therefore a necessity.
Remember that creating a culture of safety does not end with an implemented plan. It requires ongoing commitment, ongoing education, continuous transparency and diligence. Once fully-evolved, it will increase the number of eyes looking out for potential hazards and reduce time loss to injury. The first step begins with a business owner showing that employee well being is their top-priority. A small gesture, like purchasing safe vests, or installing plastic post covers over bollards to increase their visibility can serve as a good spark to initiate a cultural shift at your business.