What Is Safety Culture and How Can You Establish It?



Safety culture is a type of organizational philosophy that prioritizes safety above all else. It’s important to integrate if you want to keep your employees safe and keep your business protected. But what exactly does it mean to build and enforce a safety culture within your organization, and what’s the best way to approach it?

The Value of Safety Culture

Safety culture is important primarily because it has the effect of reducing the prevalence of workplace accidents and injuries. This not only keeps your employees safer and healthier, but also saves your company a lot of money and helps you establish a better reputation. Safety rules and safety equipment are both helpful in reducing workplace accidents and injuries, but if your employees don’t take safety seriously, they may not follow them or use them; that’s why safety culture is also an essential component of safe workplaces.

The Elements of Safety Culture

These are the primary elements of safety culture:

· High-level values and philosophies. Safety culture starts with high-level values and philosophies. Your organization needs to stand for safety as the indisputable highest priority, or else none of your rules and procedures are going to be taken seriously. It’s also important to hire and condition people to embody these values, so they aren’t just lofty ideals.

· Employee education. It’s important to educate, train, and potentially even certify your employees in the tasks and responsibilities they’ll be carrying out regularly. Take, for example, forklift operations. Forklifts are very heavy, powerful machines – despite their small apparent size – and they can cause catastrophic injuries and damage if used irresponsibly. That’s why it’s so important to pursue forklift certification for employees who will be operating them. Without training and education, you can’t blame your employees for failing to conduct themselves safely.

· Supervision. Most organizations with safety culture as a priority also employ consistent supervision. Even your most responsible, competent, safety-conscious employees can sometimes make mistakes; supervisors are there to catch those mistakes and provide a backup set of eyes. These leaders help to take your safety culture from pure philosophy to reality.

· Mutual respect. Underlying safety culture is also a mutual respect between everyone in the organization. Supervisors must care for their employees. Employees must care for their supervisors. Peers must care for each other. This way, even if a rogue employee doesn’t care about their own safety, they’ll certainly care about the safety of the people around them.

· Communication and transparency. Another critical component of safety culture is open communication and transparency. Employees need to feel comfortable and confident addressing hazards and safety violations, or else they could fly under the radar. Without communication and mutual transparency in place, there is no basis of accountability.

· Audits and analyses. Finally, it’s important for organizations to conduct regular audits and analyses to see how their safety strategies are faring. Hazards, equipment, and practices in your organization are always changing, so it pays to stay on top of those changes to maximize employee safety.

How to Establish a Safety Culture in Your Organization

So what steps can you take to establish a better safety culture in your organization?

· Start with core values. Your company’s core values may seem superficial, but they play an important role in dictating how your company operates, inside and out. Start here and make sure safety is part of your core brand identity.

· Practice smart hiring. It’s much easier to foster and propagate a safety culture if you hire people who already take safety seriously. Pay close attention to employees and contractors in your interviews, and selectively hire people likely to reflect your values and priorities.

· Provide good training (and reminders). Provide thorough education, training, and certification to your employees. On top of that, use periodic reminders and meetings to help reestablish and ingrain good habits.

· Use visuals to keep safety top of mind. Most workplaces benefit from visuals that help employees keep safety top of mind. For example, you can hang a poster with a catchy slogan about the importance of wearing a hard hat in certain areas.

· Appoint strong leaders. Culture is cultivated from the top down. That’s why it’s so important for organizations to appoint strong leaders who will embody safety culture and condition their subordinates to do the same.

· Implement corrective actions. No organization is perfect and no safety culture is flawless. That’s why it’s important to have policies in place for corrective action. How will you discipline employees who violate safety rules? How will you change your safety strategies in the face of evolving technology or new procedures?

Don’t take your organization’s safety culture for granted. Establishing it is a good move, but it requires consistent work and maintenance to persist. Everyone in your organization, especially the people at the top, need to treat safety as the highest priority – and without deliberate practice, that priority could easily fall away.


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