EHS Management

5 Signs That Management Isn’t Aligned with Your Safety Culture

If you’re working hard on developing a strong safety culture in your workplace but still can’t see any results, there are a few tell-tale signs that the failure of your efforts is caused by external factors. Consider if management is exhibiting any of these 5 behaviors before you give up on your efforts.

Management and Safety

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1. They don’t walk the talk. It’s not uncommon to see leaders who feel they are above the rules—what applies to everyone else does not apply to them. Think about it. What kind of message does it send when managers attend safety training but sit at the back of the room doing paperwork or checking their email the entire time? And it’s more than just having leadership be present for safety training; they need to be fully engaged in it.

Demonstrating commitment at all levels of the organization is an important cultural factor and leadership taking an active role can have an immediate positive effect.  Leaders have to be consistent and ensure they follow through to establish trust among employees, especially if the workers’ desire for safety training stemmed from their need to see a change from leadership.

2. They send mixed messages. Almost every company will outwardly express their commitment to safety, but it’s what happens on the inside that causes confusion. For example, a deadline causes a rushed processing of an order. This may result in a safety violation getting ignored or a pre-inspection being missed. But so long as no one gets hurt, it’s not a big deal, right?

Sometimes working faster is unavoidable but sending the message that production is more important than the workers’ safety can significantly weaken the workplace culture. It could take years for management to regain their employees’ trust, so it’s important for the leadership to always back up the stated safety goals with their actions. It’s hard to establish trust with mixed messages muddying the waters.

3. They don’t provide resources for success. A strong safety culture is the by-product of giving employees the resources they need to succeed. One of the most common excuses for not following through on a needed safety initiative is an insufficient budget. This is rarely believable from the workers’ perspective. And it sends a clear message that leadership is not interested in investing in employee safety.

It is also often claimed that there’s just not enough time to stop production and squeeze in safety training. But these are the short-term excuses that don’t plan for long-term goals. An accident can have much steeper costs, and the company might have an even harder time recovering from the damage.

4. They don’t provide the time. New safety initiatives should be given ample time to prove their effectiveness. There should always be a sustainability plan in place for every new safety initiative to ensure its continuous application and progress (and ultimately show that the company believes in it). If the leadership switches safety programs too frequently, they’ll start to feel like a flavor of the month and the credibility of the initiative is lost.

5. They won’t grow or change. “It’s the way that we’ve always done it and it’s worked for us in the past.” If this sounds familiar, the company executive’s messages are definitely not aligned with your efforts. While it’s important to build on your strengths and not simply change for the sake of changing, leaders need to know that new safety initiatives can build on their past success. It’s also important to note that even though nothing bad ever happened in the past, things might not necessarily have been done the right way and it certainly doesn’t mean that nothing bad will happen in the future—or today.

If you want your efforts to be successful, you will have to use your communication tools and start at the top. You need to address this problem strategically and intelligently before you’ll be able to concentrate again on building a healthy safety culture that includes everyone in your workplace.

Tim Page-BottorffTim Page-Bottorff, CSP, CIT, is Senior Safety Consultant for SafeStart, Vice President of ASSP Region 2, and an influential and inspirational speaker with over 20 years of experience in occupational health, safety, and environmental management.

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