How do you go about changing the culture?
Changing a company’s safety culture is not easy to accomplish, but it doesn’t have to be too difficult. Over the years, we have seen companies make significant changes in this respect. Those who were successful realized that it was a process that would take time and continual effort. They also had three things in common.
First, they recognized that, in order for the culture to change in a positive way, they had to get everyone on board—from the CEO down to the newest production hire. Hourly staff can quickly pick up on any agenda that management is promoting for the benefit of the company but exempt themselves from. But once the employees realize that management is genuinely concerned about everyone’s safety and that they are willing to go beyond their basic job descriptions to make that happen, then they are open to getting on board with making changes. Management must encourage feedback and be willing to implement change based on that feedback.
The hardest task is to get everyone to realize that they are responsible not only for their own safety but that of their co-workers as well (see The Moral Safety Compass for advice on this). To make that happen, companies often use outside consultants to walk everyone through a short program which helps them realize that they take risks they shouldn’t more often than they realize, both at work and during their off hours. Going into that training almost everyone believes that they don’t really take many risks (learn more in Safety and Overconfidence). This type of training helps people realize that most of them up to that time have been lucky that the shortcuts or known risks they have taken haven’t resulted in any serious consequences. That’s the primary reason they were taking too many risks: most of the time there aren’t significant consequences.
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However, everyone knows of incidents where the outcomes have been dire. Once the consultants help people realize what the possible consequences are, either to them and or their co-workers and their families, attitudes start to change. The usual outcome of the program is the realization that they need to change their behavior because, if they don’t, it’s just a matter of time before they or someone they care about suffers.
Finally, all the companies realized that for lasting improvements to occur they needed to create an atmosphere where employees could have discussions about safety without any negative repercussions. In other words, a production worker could point out a supervisor’s or even a manager’s unsafe action without worrying about being penalized for speaking up (see Implementing a Safety Culture: Speak Up for Safety to learn about the importance of this). Creating this atmosphere isn’t a great challenge once they get everyone thinking about possible outcomes. Taking those couple of extra minutes to do a job safely, to eliminate a hazard, or remind a co-worker of unsafe behavior pays big dividends.
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