In other words, safety culture is something that must permeate an entire organization. Its application largely depends on the investment, training, employee attitude, environment, location, laws, customs and practices in the industry. So how can organizations go about developing a safety culture? Here we'll examine the basics.
How to Develop a Safety CultureDeveloping a safety culture, then, requires that management display and discuss safety-related issues and make safety discussions a day-to-day practice in an organization. Safety culture should be established at every level of an organization as a regular practice. Most importantly, everyone in an organization should be encouraged and awarded for innovations and good practices and discouraged or punished for not observing safe practices. In some organizations, meetings or conferences start by asking "Are there any safety issues?" This carries a powerful message down the ladder. (Safety moments are another common strategy for creating a safety culture. Read more in Why Safety Moments Matter.)
The Basics of a Safety CultureTo truly create and embed a safety culture within an organizational culture, all of its elements must be present. The key elements of a safety culture are as follows:
- An organizational commitment to safety that prioritizes safety in decision-making and investment. It is reflected by safety values, fundamentals and best practices beyond compliance.
- The presence of active employees who directly supervise others and their safety behavior to reinforce the safety values supported by the management. This group includes supervisors, maintenance people and safety trainers.
- The development of official safety systems, such as reporting, feedback and response.
- The presence of unofficial safety systems, such as verbal instructions pertaining to safety behavior, and rewards and punishments for safe and unsafe actions. Accountability, authority and professionalism are also part of a safety culture.
Introducing a Safety CultureTo introduce a safety culture, the management plays the most important role. This means that management needs to actively set a good example and encourage employee safety consistently.
In fact, strong leadership is paramount in setting safety culture. Here are some ways organizational leaders can help promote a safety culture:
- Safety should be a top priority in making every decision. Management should give safety a high position in the organization’s goals and in all situations.
- Commitment to safety should be visible. Management must demonstrate visibility and repeat their commitment to safety throughout all areas of the organization.
- Safety walk-arounds are good practices that may be conducted by senior managers on a regular basis. This is a visible way for managers to stay on top of true safety conditions in the area within their jurisdiction.
- Good safety culture needs effective communication, such as reporting and feedback on all safety issues such as accidents, near misses and safety concerns and problems. This sends a strong message that management views safety performance as important as other organizational goals.
- Active employee participation is vital for accident prevention and hazard reduction. Training plays an important role in the employees’ engagement.
- Establishment of learning culture in the organization where all employees are involved in learning by contributing their thoughts for safety improvements. Learning culture empowers employees to identify, learn and change unsafe conditions and behaviors.
- Employees should be awarded for good safety performance. This should include ideas and acts that improve safety and also voluntary contribution to safety.
- Employees should feel free to report unsafe and near miss issues without fear that they may be held responsible. Senior managers should display their care for such reports by having an "open door policy."
- Effective communication is a key to success for a positive safety culture. It may be achieved through an existing safety policy, office memorandums, posters, announcements, newsletters and reports.
- An organization’s safety management system (SMS) should be should be headed by the most senior person in the organization, with the support of the senior management team and safety professionals. Its activities and achievements should be made visible regularly.
Visible Tools of Safety CultureOrganizations may follow the following tips to establish a positive safety culture and create safety-building tools"
- Setting strategic planning sessions
- Allocating budget toward health and safety
- Forming environment, safety and health (ESH) committees
- Establishing safety and health representative networks
- Arranging meetings and conferences
- Introducing suggestion schemes
- Analyzing accident/incident rates, compensation costs and absenteeism rates
- Discussing reported accidents, hazards and near misses