As EHS professionals, we’re always striving to continuously improve our processes and programs, keep up with changing regulations, mitigate risk, and prevent incidents. But when it comes to fostering a strong safety culture, many of us aren’t yet where we want to be.
Whether you’re building your culture from the ground up or are ready to take yours to the next level, let’s look at five success criteria to follow to create a sustainable safety culture across your organization.
5 Key Success Criteria for Building Your Safety Culture
1. Management Commitment
When launching any new initiative, management commitment is imperative to show there’s active involvement in health and safety at all levels of the organization. To foster a sustainable safety culture, you need to demonstrate from the frontline to the CEO that safety is your organization’s top priority.
Part of making leadership’s EHS commitment visible across your company means your management team needs to be able to ‘walk the talk’. For employees to truly buy in to your safety culture initiative, they need to not only see it in writing, but also need to see management demonstrate their commitment in person.
After a safety meeting with management happens, it’s key to collect feedback from your employees. Give them the opportunity to provide input via a survey about how they felt about the discussion and what percent they talked in the meeting vs. management. This not only provides potential improvement opportunities for the management team having these talks, but also shows that your employees’ opinions matter.
2. Communication and Visibility
The key to success in any partnership is communication and that’s really what your safety culture is – a partnership between employees and management. Being able to effectively inform your employees on both policies and procedures is crucial. However, some organizations miss the mark here by not making information completely accessible or as organizations expand globally – available in different languages.
For your safety culture to be successful, your employees need to be active participants and there needs to be a sense of ownership around safety at all levels of the organization. If employees can’t understand your policies and procedures or if you don’t provide them with a place to communicate with everyone, your culture won’t improve.
In organizations with best-in-class cultures, safety is a joint exercise between employees and management and a space is created for employees to give direct feedback. Employees need to feel like they are being heard before they can truly engage in your culture and programs.
3. Training and Employee Engagement
Whether it’s classroom training, safety walks and talks, or daily safety tips, it’s important your employees receive not only the regulatory required training on their job duties, but also training specific to your organization’s policies and procedures that drives engagement.
The quality of your training significantly impacts your overall safety culture and great training programs consider the needs of new and existing workers, work practices or equipment changes, and even the introduction of new technology.
The key thing to keep in mind is that training plays an important role in the relationship between employees and leaders and needs to include a feedback loop. Your training program should convey the message to employees that they have a duty to participate in training but also have a voice to contribute and make recommendations for improvement. One training trend that is gaining traction is microlearning, which provides targeted bursts of information.
Microlearning in action could look like this: while a front-line worker is completing an inspection, they can receive a notification on their mobile device alerting them that employees in another facility reported signs of leaking on that specific piece of equipment. The employee performing the inspection now knows to look closer and can potentially identify an issue that could prevent an incident.
4. Understand and Analyze
As EHS professionals, we’re experts when it comes to performing investigations and conducting a root cause analysis when there’s an incident or near miss. If you find that your safety culture has plateaued or you’re witnessing symptoms of a poor safety culture (like routine procedural violations), it’s time to analyze your initiatives and collect feedback to understand what’s going on with your workers. If we don’t proactively address these symptoms and put in the necessary process improvements for our programs, this can lead to bigger problems for the organization.
5. Leverage Technology to Support your Safety Culture
Technology is truly becoming a gateway to support safety culture by enabling employees to receive information and send feedback in real-time. In fact, in a recent survey of over 200 EHS professionals, EHS Embraces the Technology Revolution, 84% of respondents indicated they had initiated technology programs related to improving safety culture.
Trends like Industry 4.0 and technologies like mobile devices and applications can play a big role in supporting your safety culture by making it easier for everyone to participate in your programs. Employees out in the field or on a manufacturing line can use their devices to report incidents and observations, complete tasks like inspections and checklists, take pictures, view risk assessments, and share insights and feedback to EHS managers in real-time. The more employees participate and feel that personal sense of ownership over the organization’s safety performance, the stronger your overall safety culture will become.
Creating a culture of safety that ‘sticks’ throughout your organization and operations isn’t something that can be built overnight. A culture shift is an investment that takes significant time, resources, and communication. But by following the five criteria outlined above – from securing management commitment to augmenting your programs with technology, you can create a sustainable safety culture that drives employee engagement and continuous improvement across your organization.
For more information on building and sustaining a great safety culture, watch my recent webinar, Regulatory Demands Impacting Safety Culture in 2019.
About the Author
Pamala Bobbitt is VP of Product Marketing at Cority, a leading global provider of environmental, health, safety, and quality (EHSQ) SaaS solutions. Having trained as a Chemist, Pamala spent over 15 years as an EHS professional in the pharmaceutical, chemical and automotive industries. Most recently, she has spent the past decade at EHS software companies using her deep industry expertise to translate business requirements into successful technology programs.