A company’s safety culture the thing tells you whether or not safety is central to the way a business is managed. The safety culture says safety is just a word that is acknowledged only when convenient or safety is standard practice.  

A business with a positive safety culture considers safety in all parts of its operation. When safety is actively managed, every worker knows that he or she has a role in making the workplace safe for all workers.  A company with a negative safety culture on the other hand allows workers to be put at risk through failure to identify and properly respond to unsafe working conditions.  The nature of the workplace safety culture will have far reaching impacts on efficiency, morale, employee turnover and profitability.  The better the workplace safety culture, the better the chances of business success. Workers who are engaged and feel supported enjoy coming to a work site where there is a demonstrated interest in keeping them safe.   

Responsibility for shaping the workplace safety culture rests entirely with management.  A safety culture just doesn’t happen.  It is created through the attitudes, actions, messages and practices of management at all levels.  The way management responds to safety events, their approach to safety issues and worker concerns and the actions of managers themselves all contribute to how safety is viewed and put into practice by workers.  Creating a positive safety environment is not difficult. What it takes is a genuine commitment by managers to accept safety as a corporate value. 

Following are some of the building blocks for creating a positive safety culture:

Be the safety boss: The CEO sets the tone.  The senior manager must make him or herself responsible for worker safety and be seen to have a genuine commitment to fulfilling that responsibility.  It is not enough to assign safety duties to a safety manager and receive only reports.  The senior executive should not only approve and sign the corporate safety policy, but also make sure it is highly visible throughout the organization.  He or she should take an active role in overseeing safety programs and set an example.

Empower workers:  Workers need to know they are authorized to make safety decisions and if necessary take action to address an unsafe condition.  Workers must know that they have the duty and responsibility to report threats to safety without repercussion or penalty.  They should also know that they are expected to directly mitigate any immediate real or potential unsafe action, condition or hazard, irrespective of the operational or financial consequences.

Follow through on everything: All safety incidents, no matter how minor, must be investigated. The results of the investigation should be shared throughout the organization.  Investigations should not be an exercise in attaching blame but an honest and complete examination of the causes, impacts and consequences of a safety incident.  The single objective of an investigation is to prevent such incidents from happening again.  The investigation itself must be conducted in a timely manner. Corrective actions or modification of work processes resulting from the investigation must be implemented quickly. 

Spend the money and invest in safety: A positive safety culture is properly resourced.  A good safety management program will result in reduced operational costs.  Benefits will be obtained through lower insurance and workers’ compensation premiums, fewer sick days and less employee turnover, greater worker commitment and improved equipment utilization.  Investments in employee safety training, proper personal protective equipment and the right tools for the job will result in a positive return.  

It is particularly hard for small businesses to think of safety in terms other than following the rules and regulations.  Being a safe operator is more than just rules and regulations, it is a top down attitude that says that unsafe working conditions are not acceptable here and everything is being done to make sure everyone is safe at work.

Rob Weston, TransWest Consulting