Back to Basics

Back to Basics: Boost Your Company’s Safety Culture

Back to Basics is a weekly feature that highlights important but possibly overlooked information that any EHS professional should know. As part of EHS Daily Advisor’s Safety Culture Week 2021, we examine how to improve your company’s safety culture.

Safety culture is a much-discussed concept these days, but what does it actually mean? According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Construction Safety & Injury Prevention Program Workbook, “a culture is an attitude that develops over time, based upon learning, personal experiences, beliefs, and upbringing; and is widely demonstrated by company staff. While adjusting your safety culture, keep in mind that most people are resistant to change. This change is an evolving process for some and a revolution for others.”

The workbook lists some key steps that can be used “to foster a change in a company safety culture toward minimal incidents.” The steps are as follows:

  1. Define the need for change. Management must communicate and demonstrate expectations and how employees will benefit from the change in safety culture.
  2. Commit to the desired result. Management must provide guidance to achieve goals and target objectives to work toward the vision of minimal incidents. Demonstrated commitment must be evidence from all levels of management. Management often voices its commitment, but does not know how to visibly demonstrate that commitment to employees.
  3. Assess current safety culture. Actively solicit employee input and provide feedback to employees. Examine technical and human factors, and identify and remove barriers that prevent desired performance. Evaluate environmental, organizational, and culture influences.
  4. Strategically plan for implementation. Use staff input and pertinent data collected to define critical issues and prioritize them accordingly. Develop goals and objectives that are aligned with the overall company culture. Determine the barriers that exist and create a strategy to address them.
  5. Focus on incident control. The goal is no incidents. Although there is disagreement as to whether this is possible, the bottom line is to continue to work toward achieving minimal incidents.
  6. Implement and communicate. Behaviors must change. Be sure that there is consistency and commitment among leadership and clearly communicated goals.
  7. Evaluate and measure results. Review progress and evaluate results on a regular basis. Are incidents increasing or decreasing? If there is an increase, the system is out of control. A decrease indicates that the system is improving and appears to be working toward long-term improvement.

Roles in developing safety culture

According to the workbook, management, safety professionals, and employees all play different but key roles in developing a new safety culture:

  • Management. Most of the time, management and employees are blamed for incidents. In reality, it’s usually the management system alone that is to blame. Management must realize that the organization needs to commit resources to allow safety improvements.
  • Safety staff. Some companies consider the safety professional to be “at fault” when an incident occurs. However, in many cases, safety professionals are the driving force, but are implementing management directives. The safety professional provides the appropriate mentoring, coaching, and guidance to help management make the right decisions. But one must remember that executive management must be the authority; top-level managers must make the final decision.
  • Employee. It is important to involve employees in the safety process. Employees must understand that they need to take an active role in the development and planning of the new safety culture. It is vitally important to provide employees with the tools, funding, and resources to accomplish the given tasks.