EHS Management, Safety Culture and Behavioral Safety

Tips for Making Safety Culture Week a Year-Round Event

As we wrap up our week of safety culture coverage and activities, it’s important to remember that an excellent culture requires continual effort. As Safety Culture Week draws to a close, here are some thoughts on how you can set the example and model a positive safety culture every day at your company.

Safety thumbs up

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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.

Five Ways You Can Encourage a Positive Safety Culture

  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.

While these tips are useful for general improvement of safety culture and perception of safety, it’s also important for EHS professionals to take the lead. Therefore, it’s important to also focus more directly on management and leadership strategies that can enhance your company’s commitment to safety—and how your workers perceive it.

Four Leadership Strategies to Enhance Your Safety Culture

When you’re looking at your commitment to safety and your workers’ perceptions of safety in the workplace, examine your leadership style and safety management system. Get into the habit of thinking about the process of recognizing hazards and finding ways to control them. When you’re thinking in terms of leadership, systems, and processes, workers will start to see safety as an integrated, long-term, value-enhancing, positive process rather than as a standalone program that is often at odds with production.

Here are some leadership strategies that can help:

  1. Ask the right questions. Look at safety initiatives and accident investigations as action planning, not fault-finding missions. That way, rather than focusing on the past and on things that can’t be changed, you’ll be focused on ways to improve safety performance going forward.
  2. Improve your communications skills. When instituting a new control, explain to affected workers why they are being asked to change what they normally do and what success will look like.
  3. Identify and manage cost drivers. Workplace injuries and illnesses involve a substantial amount of “hidden” costs, such as lost workdays, workers’ compensation, and replacing a worker. Identify these costs and measure them over time. If you can measure them, you can manage them. Make the case to management that these costs can be managed and reduced with a stronger commitment to safety.
  4. Don’t accept failure. Accepting that “accidents happen” is an indication of a faltering safety culture—one where employers and workers are not in control of their own fate. In companies with a strong safety culture, employers and employees work together to identify and control hazards before anyone is seriously hurt. That’s the kind of environment that can properly be called a “positive safety culture.”

More Resources from Safety Culture Thought Leaders

There is a great deal of thought leadership regarding the creation, improvement, and maintenance of world-class organizational safety culture, and you can find a lot of it right here on the EHS Daily Advisor! Continue your safety culture journey with some of these great articles and podcasts:

And, of course, don’t forget all of our features from our first ever Safety Culture Week!

So, let’s make Safety Culture Week a year-round event! Prioritize safety every day to ensure a happier, healthier, and safer workforce.