Creating safety culture

Safety is a state of absence or freedom from risk of injury, accident, or any dangerous occurrence. Whereas health; is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, merely absence of disease. Safety and health is a part of almost all jobs and everyone is concerned to some degree.

Accidents can very quickly eat away profits, NOT to mention the morale and efficiency of employees. People may believe that insurance is for accidents and will cover any costs, but there are many costs, direct and hidden, incurred from accidents and injuries. With just ONE accident, a direct cost may include the cost of the insurance claim and any payments to the injured; however hidden costs can accumulate from paying a temporary replacement employee, costs to investigate the accident, increased insurance premium, costs of interruptions in production and above all “soft” costs to damaged reputation and customer relations.

Reducing accidents in workplace is an important part of remaining in today’s business climate. Regardless of the size and nature of enterprise safety of each employee is crucial to an organization’s success. Several research outcomes suggest that developing strong safety cultures have the single greatest impact on accident reduction of any process. It is for this single reason that developing these cultures must be top priority for all managers and supervisors.

What is a safety culture? the safety culture of an organization is the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies and patterns of behavior that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organization’s health and safety management.

Typically, attempts to improve workplace safety concentrated on technical issues and individual human failures. Therefore it is essential to create a corporate atmosphere or culture in which safety is understood and is accepted as “the number one priority”. Worker’s perceptions and their reactions to how safety is managed in the workplace, and the likelihood those perceptions and reactions will contribute to a workplace incident. Organizations with a positive safety culture are characterized by communications founded on mutual trust, by shared perceptions of the importance of safety and by confidence in the efficacy of preventive measures.

A safety culture needs strong top-down support, good communication, established processes and built-in accountability. A “good” safety culture may reflect and be promoted by four factors: “senior management commitment to safety”; realistic and flexible customs and practices for handling both well-defined and ill-defined hazards; continuous organizational learning through practices such as feedback systems, monitoring and analyzing; and a care and concern for hazards which is shared across the workforce. Examining worker attitudes towards safety and their perceptions of hazards within the workplace is often used to provide a measure of the organization’s safety climate and ultimately the safety culture which underlies it.

In a strong safety culture, everyone feels responsible for safety & pursues it on a daily basis; employees go beyond “The Call of Duty” to identify unsafe conditions, behaviors and intervene to correct them. For instance, in a strong safety culture any worker would feel comfortable walking up to the plant manager or CEO & reminding him / her to wear safety glasses. This type of behavior would not be viewed as forward or over-zealous but would be valued by the organization & rewarded. Likewise coworkers routinely look out for one another & point out unsafe behaviors to each other.

Ten Steps to Build Safety Culture:

  1. Define safety responsibilities for all levels of the organization, e.g., safety is a line management function.
  2. Develop upstream measures, e.g., number of reports of hazards/suggestions, number of committee projects/successes, etc.
  3. Align management and supervisors through establishing a shared vision of safety and health goals and objectives vs. production.
  4. Implement a process that holds managers and supervisors accountable for visibly being involved, setting the proper example, and leading a positive change for safety and health.
  5. Evaluate and rebuild any incentives & disciplinary systems for safety and health as necessary.
  6. Ensure the safety committee is functioning appropriately, e.g., membership, responsibilities/functions, authority, meeting management skills, etc.
  7. Provide multiple paths for employees to bring suggestions, concerns, or problems forward. One mechanism should use the chain of command and ensure no repercussions. Hold supervisors and middle managers accountable for being responsive.
  8. Develop a system that tracks and ensures the timeliness in hazard correction. Many sites have been successful in building this in with an already existing work order system.
  9. Ensure reporting of injuries, first aids, and near misses. Educate employees on the accident pyramid and importance of reporting minor incidents. Prepare management for initial increase in incidents and rise in rates. This will occur if under-reporting exists in the organization. It will level off, and then decline as the system changes take hold.
  10. Evaluate and rebuild the incident investigation system as necessary to ensure that it is timely, complete, and effective. It should get to the root causes and avoid blaming workers.

Top management support of a safety culture often results in acquiring a safety director, providing resources for accident investigations, and safety training. Further it lead towards a true safety culture uses accountability systems. These systems establish safety goals, measure safety activities, and charge costs back to the units that incur them.

Ultimately, safety becomes everyone’s responsibility, not just the safety director’s. Safety becomes a value of the organization and is an integral part of operations. Management and employees are committed and involved in preventing losses. Over time the norms and beliefs of the organization shift focus from eliminating hazards to eliminating unsafe behaviors and building systems that proactively improve safety and health conditions. Employee safety and doing something the right way takes preference over short term production pressures. Simultaneously, production does not suffer but is enhanced due to the level of excellence developed within the organization.

Any process that brings all levels within the organization together to work on a common goal that everyone holds in high value will strengthen the organizational culture. The concept of safety culture signifies the importance of how organizations manage health and safety in the workplace.  It is important that organizations consider that any changes made to the operations of a business, will have an impact on workers perceptions of the organization.

Creating a safety culture takes time. It is frequently a multi-year process. A series of continuous process improvement steps can be followed to create and implement a safety culture. Employer and employee commitment are the hallmarks of a true safety culture where safety is an integral part of daily operations. Eventually, PEOPLE LEARN CULTURE.

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