Safety Culture Defined

What is Safety Culture?

As many businesses still operate with processes and procedures that are largely reactive in nature, an incident or injury may serve as the first indicator of a poor safety culture. While it may not be possible to predict every incident, adopting a proactive approach can help to reduce the rates of incidents by increasing awareness and the overall commitment to safety. 

The concept of ‘safety culture’ emerged as a concept in the early 1980s, and over the years it has become an increasingly prominent topic. As a concept, safety culture refers to the shared beliefs, practices and attitudes that exist at an establishment.

The concept of safety culture encourages the shared responsibility for safety. It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean that those in the position of safety management relinquish all responsibility. Instead, it’s about identifying safety leaders across all levels of an organization to ensure that safety is an integral part of the workplace and is interwoven into the way a business operates. It’s about making safety the cultural mindset and the way of life.

The Relationship Between Safety Culture and Safety Management Systems

What is the difference between safety culture and a safety management system? Is a safety management system enough on its own?

While safety culture encompasses the values, beliefs, and attitudes of an organization, a safety management system (SMS) involves the systems, processes, and procedures by which a company operates in order to manage safety and risk. The SMS represents a company’s ability and tools in place to manage risk and achieve safety while safety culture represents a company’s willingness and commitment to achieve safety.

These two separate, yet related concepts operate in complement to one another. A strong and positive safety culture can help to inform decisions and gather feedback on what is and is not working within the SMS. By leaning on safety culture to inform decisions, companies can ensure that their SMS is appropriately designed and effective.

The Three Key Elements of Safety Culture

Safety culture is broken down into 3 key elements.

  • Buy-in from management: Safety is often viewed as separate from and competing with other core business operations. In order for safety culture to be successful, companies must adopt/hold the view that a strong safety culture supports the business’s bottom line. 
  • Employee engagement: In addition to buy-in from management, buy-in and engagement from employees is crucial. With engagement from employees, companies can create a shared responsibility for safety which can help to improve safety processes and efficiency, empower employees, and drive improvements to employee productivity and satisfaction. The success of any safety program and process is directly related to the engagement of employees.
  • An environment of continuous improvement: Safety processes are most efficient when there is commitment, involvement, and input from employees. Involving employees in safety processes and decisions can provide valuable information and data otherwise potentially inaccessible. Those who are performing the work on the frontline can provide valuable insights into risks and other issues that may be otherwise overlooked. 

Safety Culture as a Dynamic Process

A culture of safety isn’t built overnight. Development of a strong safety culture happens over time and requires commitment across all levels of the organization. It emphasizes the importance of building trust in working relationships and engaging the workforce.

Creating a culture of safety is about moving beyond the concept of simple compliance. By embedding safety into every aspect of the workplace, you create an environment of trust, inclusion, and commitment that can strengthen your operations and lead to a myriad of positive outcomes. 

Safety cultures are dynamic in nature. In order to maintain the highest commitment to safety, it’s important to allow feedback and insights to guide decisions and inform change. Processes will need to be adapted from time to time to ensure the utmost efficiency. Employees will remain committed and engaged if they feel their voices are heard and they have the power to evoke change.

Benefits of Positive Safety Culture

Building a positive safety culture involves redefining what it means for a business and its employees to be safe. It’s about making safety part of the everyday. It’s about empowering employees to share their voice. By removing the fear of punishment or retribution, employees are empowered to provide feedback and bring to light issues and ideas that can help drive positive change. Other key benefits of positive safety culture include:

  • Fewer injuries and incidents
  • Reduction in costs associated with injuries and incidents (lost work, fines, repairs, etc.)
  • Increased employee engagement 
  • Improved retention rates
  • Improved productivity and quality

Protect your people, protect your business. Learn how Anvl can help you engage your workforce and share the responsibility for safety in order to reshape safety culture.

Read the full series on safety culture:

Part 2 – Safety Culture Myths and Misconceptions
Part 3 – Safety Culture and Shared Responsibility
Part 4 – Building a Strong and Sustainable Safety Culture