June 19, 2012

It does, if you live it. Working safely is not a procedure or a system, it is a behavior. Behaviors in the workplace are affected by several factors including our values, our employer's values, the training we've received and the company's priorities. Sometimes these factors are in conflict and the unfortunate result can be a serious injury to one or more of your employees.

If you have the time, you can plough through tons of research on what constitutes a safety culture. It is harder to define just what safety culture is than it is to describe the safety culture's impact. You have a safety culture in place when the safety values of the organization shape the behavioral norms of your employees and how they approach job responsibilities and tasks.

There is a host of characteristics associated with an employer having a living safety culture:

    1. It demonstrates that safety is a core value
    2. Management exhibits strong safety leadership
    3. There are high standards of safety performance
    4. The company encourages individuals to successfully fulfill their safety
    5. Management ensures open and effective communication on safety
    6. Management supports the questioning of safety practices within the
    context of training and learning
    7. Management provides timely response to safety issues and concerns
    8. The company continually monitors performance

The key questions is, how do you know your safety culture is embraced by your employees? You could rely on just injury and loss results, but sometimes they are the result of good luck as opposed to good practices. In this instance you might be better served to look at both injury/loss experience and behaviors. Then ask, did the behaviors produce the results? There are four key behavioral areas to consider when evaluating the effect your safety culture has on your operation:

Do employees observe and correct hazards?
In a safety culture, employees are encouraged to observe and correct hazards. Once a hazard or unsafe process is identified, a corrective action is developed and implemented. The results of the correction are then reported.
Is the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn?
When a safety culture exists, employees will be wearing the appropriate protective equipment. Employees know which PPE to use for which task, how to properly use the appropriate equipment, how to keep PPE well maintained and when to dispose of ineffective PPE.

Is your safety committee is respected?
In a safety culture, there is an active safety committee. The committee meetings are scheduled on a regular basis and well-attended. The overall agenda of the committee is clear, and includes goals, as well as, performance expectations. Results are reported on at least an annual basis. The committee will advocate regular training in basic safety methods for all employees and also specialized training to address safety issues specific to a given department or work group.

Is there is buy-in from bottom to top?
Management will determine the fiscal and human impacts of the safety culture. It should reduce the cost of insurance and employees should feel safer and experience fewer injuries. Employees should feel valued for their safety contributions, including achieving company work related injury results, as well as, identifying and correcting hazards.

If your safety culture is not quite as well received as you hoped, remember that the culture is initiated at the top and the impact in terms of results are demonstrated throughout the organization. Consider a few proven practices to create and reinforce your company's safety culture.

Create Awareness. Management should attend departmental safety meetings and stress the company's concerns for employee health and safety. Make certain employees understand safety holds the same priority as productivity. They are one in the same.

Identify Leaders. Every member of the organization should be part of the culture-building process, but selected leaders can help guide the process. This is particularly important if you are trying to establish or re-establish a safety culture.

Guide The Company Through Cultural Change. A change in culture cannot be mandated, it needs to be accepted. Leaders should work to inspire, enable, nurture, and model acceptable behaviors, protocols and practices. Always reinforce positive behavior.

Keep Everyone Focused. Unfortunately, culture change is sometimes fueled by a loss. In that case it becomes a survival tactic. Hopefully, that is not the case for your company. Look for ways to keep the workplace safe and support behaviors that reflect your safety culture.

For more information on creating and maintaining your safety culture contact us at wcgroup@cmta.net.


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