Corporate culture is usually defined as the collective values, beliefs, and principles of the organization's members. By extension, the safety culture represents all the collective values, belief, and actions that define the way an organization's attitude and approach to workplace safety.
Since it is collective, a company's safety culture is always a bit fragile. It can be built by the actions of the company's employees, but it can also be destroyed by them. And once a safety culture is established, it requires continuous maintenance and improvement (learn about 5 Ways to Foster Accountability and Improve Safety Culture).
Creating and maintaining a safety culture is all about normalizing certain kinds of behavior. If good norms are established and allowed to take root, even the bad apples will eventually end up conforming to it for fear of sticking out. But if unsafe conduct becomes normalized, even fairly diligent safe workers will start disregarding some rules and best practices.
Major changes that happen infrequently and at irregular intervals, then, won't be enough to sustain a culture of safety. The best approach is, instead, to consistently encourage small, positive acts.
In this article, we'll go over some of the small things that can make a big difference to your workplace's safety culture. By fostering these habits and rituals, you can nudge your team in the right direction.
8 Small (but Important) Steps to Building a Safety Culture
Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk
This is, in my view, the most important thing we can do to promote a culture of safety.
This applies to all levels of the company, but it is most significant for those who are part of the management team or play a supervisory role.
If your company policy is that all employees on the floor have to wear steel-toed boots, the payroll manager delivering a paycheck on the factory floor should wear steel-toed boots. Or, barring that, call the employees to their office to give distribute the paychecks. But allowing one staff member to walk through the plant with street shoes risks opening the floodgate and leading to other employees working in their street shoes or doing away with other required PPE, like safety glasses or earplugs.
Stop and Help
Any time you see someone struggling or doing something unsafe. There is no better way to foster collaboration, encourage teamwork, and work safely than lending a hand to co-workers.
Encourage your employees to be proactive about this, to ask themselves "What can I do?" From helping to lift or move heavy items and spotting a vehicle when it's backing up to giving advice when they see someone doing something unsafely or inefficiently, the list of ways to help is endless.
Stop and Think
Often, we start working on the assumption that all hazard have been taken into consideration and every control has been put in place. It's easy to forget that we don't work in isolation and that the work others are doing around us or the way they move things about the workplace can introduce new hazards.
A good rule of thumb to make sure everyone remains safe and no hazards have been introduced is to follow the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, stop for 20 seconds and scan the area 20 meters around you).
When investigating a safety incident, it often comes to light that the worker or workers involved believed were mistaken about something. Perhaps they thought that they weren't aware of safe lifting techniques, didn't know that a certain task required something sturdier than thin latex gloves, or weren't sure how to safely store a chemical container (see Safe Lifting: Don't Put Your Back on the Line for related reading).
This is why demonstrations are so important. Detailed instructions are critical, but a demonstration goes a long way to ensuring that the information sticks and is not misinterpreted.
It's also a good idea to encourage workers to demonstrate certain tasks for their co-workers when they notice them doing something improperly. This will not only spread important safety information but will help the workers take ownership of workplace safety.
Labels are visual indicators reminding us about expected behavior and hazards in the workplace. Labels help reinforce safety habits and also acts as a kind of insurance in the event of a communication failure – when someone has fails to understand or hear us, they won't miss the labels (learn How to Master the Science of Sign Visibility).
Streamline Work Tasks
No task is absolutely hazard free. And the longer it takes for a task to be completed, the longer the worker is exposed to hazards. By streamlining the task, then, we reduce the number of hazards that come with it.
If any steps can be eliminated, eliminate them! No, I'm not advocating taking shortcuts. There are simply some tasks that are inefficient and have one or two steps that could go without compromising anything.
Better organization and streamlined processes won't just keep your workers safer – they will save money, too.
Housekeeping tasks are often ranked low in importance, but they're one of the best indicators of your company's attitude toward safety and the quality of the production.
A clean workplace sets the bar for all the activities that take place in it. It promotes the attitude that every little detail matters. It also builds a safety routine into the workday: without proper housekeeping, workers are at higher risk of tripping on a cord, slipping on a spilled substance, or stepping on a nail.
And don't wait until the end of the day to tidy things up. That's a recipe for hazards accumulating. Instead, encourage workers to clean up as they go.
Pick Up Your Tools
This one seems insignificant, but it makes a big difference.
Picking up work tools when they're not in use results in an organized work space. Not only does this look good, it's safer, too. And it acts as a constant reminder that the small, everyday actions workers take have an effect on their safety.
Our corporate safety culture starts with every single one of us. The small actions and decisions we make every day either contribute to the safety culture, or they erode it.
Many of us feel a little insignificant at our jobs, especially if we occupy relatively low positions in large companies. But with these small steps, we can all make a big difference.