Safety culture, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), is “the characteristics of the work environment, such as the norms, rules, and common understandings that influence facility personnel’s perceptions of the importance that the organization places on safety.” When employers create a positive safety culture, workplace safety and health improve, as do employee morale and workplace productivity.
How do your workers perceive the importance you place on safety? It matters: Their perceptions will affect their safety behavior. If they believe you think it’s important, they’re more likely to behave as if it is. Here are five things you can do to show workers how much you value safety.
1. Take the long view. Rather than looking at safety as a compliance requirement, present it as a continuous process of improvement. How is your workplace safer today than it was a year ago—or 5 years ago? What plans are you making that will make your workplace even safer 1 year or 5 years from now?
2. Look for root causes. Look at near-misses or accidents as indicators of a series of connected events that led to the incident, not as onetime or isolated events—or, worse, as an opportunity to lay blame on individual workers. Blaming workers fosters antagonistic labor-management relationships; careful investigations and root cause analysis invite workers to analyze, participate in, and contribute to their own safety.
3. Integrate safety. Safety activities should be part of your overall operation. Don’t just announce safety as a new priority that appears to workers as yet another add-on, flavor-of-the-month initiative. Perceiving and treating safety as an integral part of the systems and processes of your workplace will encourage all of your workers to do the same.
4. Accentuate the positive. Make the effort to encourage workers to improve safety performance. Watch for improvements and recognize them. Can you catch workers following safe work practices, wearing their PPE, or encouraging coworkers to be safe? Recognition doesn’t have to be expensive or flashy; a positive word at the right moment can lift a worker’s spirits and encourage him or her to continue doing the right thing.
5. Build from the bottom up. Get employees involved in the safety decision-making process instead of simply dictating new policies and priorities from the top down. Create communications structures that encourage workers to make suggestions, participate on safety committees, mentor new employees, or otherwise make positive contributions and take ownership of their own safety.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at four leadership strategies that can enhance your safety culture.