Building a Safety Culture

Amerisafe Group is providing various topics selected by The National Safety Council to focus on throughout the month. Week 3 of National Safety Month was centralized around building a safety culture. Below you will find suggested actions for employers to improve workplace safety culture.

Building a Safety Culture

The term “safety culture” has been defined in dozens of ways, including:

  1. “A reflection of the organization’s core values and assumptions about safety (espoused, a fixed state, qualitative).”
  2. “The collection of the beliefs, perceptions, and values that employees share in relation to risks within an organization, such as a workplace or community.”
  3. "The way we typically do things around here regarding safety."

No matter how you define it, lasting and effective progress in managing occupational safety cannot occur without a positive, strong safety culture in place.

OSHA states that in a strong safety culture, “everyone feels responsible for safety and pursues it on a daily basis; employees go beyond the “call of duty” to identify unsafe conditions and behaviors, and intervene to correct them.” OSHA goes on to offer that studies have found organizational factors to be the most significant predictor of safe work behaviors. Worker compliance with standard precautions was discovered to be higher when workers felt their institution had strong commitments to safety and employed strategies to reinforce this. That is, the workers were safer when they functioned in and believed there was a strong safety culture in the organization.

How does an organization build a strong safety culture?

As with the definition of “safety culture,” there are also varying opinions on what it takes to build a strong safety culture. With all the varying opinions; however, there are some common elements that are agreed upon as suggested actions which employers could take to begin to improve their safety culture:

  1. Effectively establish and demonstrate Management Commitment/Leadership in safety
  2. Increase Worker Participation/Engagement in the safety program
  3. Ensure Supervisor priorities, responsibilities and accountability for safety
  4. Develop means of favorably influencing group norms regarding acceptable safety practices
  5. Establish the organization’s socialization process for new personnel

Establish & Demonstrate Management Leadership

Creating a strong health and safety culture may take months if not years. The 2016 “SmartMarket Report: Building A Safety Culture” by Dodge Data & Analytics identifies 33 safety performance indicators for construction companies. Management commitment to safety and health is first on the list. Organization leaders set priorities, and are best to establish and demonstrate that management’s commitment to safety and health is strong, and the expectation is for all in the organization to be equally engaged in safety success.

Increase Worker Participation and Engagement

Employee participation is critical to the success of a safety culture. Employee participation means participation in establishing, operating, evaluating, and improving the safety and health program. In fact, OSHA offers that “To be effective, any safety and health program needs the meaningful participation of workers and their representatives. Workers have much to gain from a successful program, and the most to lose if the program fails. They also often know the most about potential hazards associated with their jobs. Successful programs tap into this knowledge base.” Studies have shown a direct correlation between the numbers of employees involved in an organization, and the success of the safety program. In short, the more employees are involved the stronger the safety culture will be.

Supervisor Priorities, Responsibilities & Accountability for Safety

Front line buy-in for improving worker safety and health is paramount in establishing the safety culture. Supervisors need to develop and regularly self-assess safety priorities, goals and objectives, and they need to make worker safety and health a core organizational value. Workers need to observe and know that supervisors are fully committed to eliminating hazards, protecting workers, and continuously improving safety and health on job sites. Accordingly, supervisors need to clearly know and understand their responsibilities and know they will be held accountable for their performance. Establishing expectations of supervisory safety performance favorably influences the culture and support continuous improvement in all areas.

Influencing Group Norms

It is Management’s responsibility to make clear their view of the importance of safety to employees, customers, and other external audiences. The importance of trust, respect and inclusion in shaping the companies own just safety culture must be made clear. The expectations of acceptable behavior and consequences for unacceptable behaviors are obvious to everyone at all levels of the organization. Finally, establish safety goals for all levels to participate in.

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Establish the Organization’s Socialization Process

Incorporation of safety culture and goals into new hire training is an essential part of integrating new personnel into an already established or still being built culture. Also when making new hires into all levels of management, take into account their personal view of safety to ensure you are hiring people open to the idea of improving safety culture. Make expectations and goals clear from the start, and to reiterate all the ways employees can get involved in the process of building and improving the organization's safety culture.

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