Safety culture compared to safety policy is similar to the difference between creating a brand and pitching a service. Putting in place a safety and health program can and will be effective, but motivational factors can seem like a burden to managers and employees.
Creating safety culture will align executive initiatives with employee investment and organizational commitment to create value across operational activities. As a result, effective safety culture not only reduces hazards, injuries, and related costs, it can also provide reputation advantages that improve employee recruiting, generate sales opportunities, and build morale-based quality and efficiency.
Core Elements of Safety Culture
Culture is a small word with a large connotation. Just how to implement culture is a concept that is a challenge to grasp when managing business objectives. The first step in implementing safety culture is to understand and build upon cultural principles.
Commit to Safety as a Value
Management staff as a rule is subject to shifting priorities and objectives. To build culture, safety should be considered as a value throughout the decision making process: considering new initiatives, managing day to day activities, reviewing performance, and everywhere in between. As employees hear safety consistently discussed as a value, they will understand it is not a shifting objective and more actively support initiatives.
Employee Involvement in Decision Making
Culture is the driving force for decision making in business, from leadership to management, operational employees, sales and support staff. Well known cultural values include quality, service, and efficiency. As values effect each member of an organization on a continual basis, each employee should be involved in planning cultural systems that affect them. By providing employees with objectives and focus areas, management will understand key factors and produce safety systems that employees support.
Values such as quality, service, and efficiency are often driven by incentives across the organization, from executives to managers and staff. Safety as a value can be rewarded in the same way. Safety culture should encourage communication across departments, reward performance at all levels, and include cross departmental activities.
To Support Culture, Create Systems
Once you begin to embrace safety as a culture, you will soon identify the need to create systems for consistency, management, and performance review. Effective systems will build trust and focus on correcting unsafe practices, generally improving the environment for safety discussions. Systems will also provide management with a process for hazard identification, injury prevention training, incident reporting, and continuing improvement.
The importance of safety to businesses of all sizes is proven to reduce work injuries and related costs, but implementing safety initiatives at optimal benefit is not always easy. Integrating safety as a cultural value will build motivation across the organization and encourage cooperative discussion. For more on safety culture, visit OSHA.gov.