What is Safety Culture?
A safety program is the starting point to preventing accidents in an organization, but the best results can be achieved by creating a safety culture. In simple words, organizational culture is the emotional and relational environment that’s created for employees with leadership, values, traditions, etc. Ideally, health and safety should be a normal part of doing business and not only a list of requirements.
The consequences of ignoring safety can range from time-wasting incidents where nobody is injured to severe injuries and workplace fatalities. The Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC) reported 264,438 lost-time injuries in 2018, which is equivalent to more than 720 accidents per day. A total of 1,027 workplace fatalities were reported for the same year, which is almost three lives per day.
There is a great opportunity for safety leadership in Canadian workplaces. However, the required effort goes beyond creating safety programs and policies. This article will discuss 4 ways to build a safety culture in workplaces.
1) Involve Your Employees
Business owners and managers can make workplaces safer with safety programs and training. However, employees have direct interaction with hazards every day, and they can provide the best feedback to improve safety programs and policies. Employees can also bring attention to issues that may be missed by managers, and they can identify areas of opportunity for new training programs. Employee involvement is fundamental in the creation of a safety culture. Companies must implement an efficient reporting process, to ensure that safety issues get attention quickly. Safety managers must also be aware of measures that seem to improve safety, but are actually counterproductive:
- For example, some companies reward employees for staying below a specified accident quota. However, this can actually create an incentive to hide minor incidents.
- Companies should instead promote open communication and incident reporting, focusing on solving problems instead of assigning blame.
Raising awareness among employees and buy-in is critical for safety leadership. Each employee who recognizes the importance of safety can contribute an extra pair of eyes to prevent accidents.
2) Communicate with Employees
Employee involvement goes hand-in-hand with effective communication, and managers can help create a work environment that promotes information sharing. This is very important for new employees, especially if they come from a company with a weak safety culture. Workplace safety can be improved with regular meetings, which accomplish two functions: managers can update employees on safety procedures and policy, while employees can provide feedback about work conditions. However, organizations should also promote ongoing communication, since hazards can emerge at any time. Companies should make sure that employees can access their safety policy and any related information at all times. They should also have an efficient reporting system, to ensure that safety managers are aware of issues as they emerge.
3) Train Your Employees
Raising awareness is an important aspect of safety leadership. However, employees must also have technical knowledge about workplace hazards to avoid them effectively. Many risks found in work environments are not evident; for example, some hazardous gases are colorless and odorless, and employees must be informed of their presence. By being aware of workplace hazards and how to avoid them, employees can also become more confident. This can reduce stress, improving motivation, and productivity. Online training is an effective way to keep your personnel up-to-date with safety knowledge. Also, many jurisdictions accept online courses as a way to meet their mandatory training requirements. This is also a social distancing measure against COVID-19 since there is no need to gather employees in a classroom.
4) Lead by Example
All members of an organization should be responsible for workplace safety, not only the employees and supervisors who interact with hazards directly. If managers and executives don’t follow safety policies, workers are less likely to take them seriously. A safety culture means that a company has integrated health and safety into the usual way of doing business. This is only possible with leadership buy-in, and when all members of the organization are accountable. Online training often focuses on specific areas of workplace safety, such as using heavy equipment or handling hazardous materials. However, an organization can achieve a safety culture more easily when managers are also familiarized with this information.
A safety culture requires involvement by everyone in an organization, not only the workers who are directly exposed to hazards. Managers can contribute to safety leadership by setting the example and providing workers with all the resources and training needed to stay safe. Open communication is also important, since employees observe the effectiveness of safety programs directly, and they can provide valuable feedback.