Safety Culture and Shared Responsibility
In today’s working world, organizational structures are shifting to meet the needs of the changing workforce. The antiquated hierarchical structure with rigid job descriptions and little interaction between roles is shifting. The focus has become less on hierarchy and more on organizational culture. When it comes to safety, this shifting organizational mindset presents the perfect opportunity to shift the focus from authority and complacency to shared responsibility and a culture of safety.
Leaving the responsibility for safety in the hands of only a few may contribute to an environment where safety becomes static. Perhaps businesses settle for compliance. Or perhaps they actually feel as though they are doing everything in their power to ensure a safe working environment. But perceptions may vary across the organization, and there could be a lot that is falling through the cracks.
In a strong safety culture, safety goes beyond programs, processes, and procedures and becomes the way of life. So when it comes to safety in safety culture, where does the responsibility lie?
Common Roles and Responsibilities
Although specific organizational structures vary from business to business, core safety teams often consist of four main groups: executive management, operations management, safety professionals, and workers. Each group plays a unique and important role in the development and sustainability of safety culture.
- Executive Management is responsible for setting the tone for safety and safety culture. Communicating and delivering on their commitment to the safety of all is key.
- Operations Management has the responsibility to oversee day-to-day operations and monitor efficiency and productivity. Managers at this level are responsible for ensuring employees are properly trained and following safety processes and procedures.
- Safety Personnel provide safety support organization-wide. These individuals are responsible for staying up-to-date on safety rules and regulations, developing safety programs, and conducting safety inspections and audits.
- Workers have the responsibility to follow safety processes and procedures. It is the responsibility of the worker to ensure they understand these processes before completing work and to advocate for additional training and guidance if needed.
Shared Responsibility: Taking it a Step Further
Safety culture expands on this idea of safety as a team approach. Contrary to common safety culture misconceptions, culture does not have to be managed from the top down. Safety culture highlights the importance of the involvement of employees across all levels of an organization. By involving everyone in some capacity, it becomes easier to make safety a way of life.
Shared responsibility means engaging employees and identifying safety leaders. In a strong culture of safety, employees are viewed as partners, assets and valuable resources, rather than as liabilities. The value of employee insights is recognized and nurtured. When the responsibility for safety is shared, employees are empowered to take charge of their own safety and the safety of those around them. They are expected and encouraged to speak up when issues arise. They are given the resources they need to advocate for safety. And more importantly, they see follow-through. In a strong safety culture, employees see that their insights and opinions matter and are used to drive meaningful change.
It’s important to understand that this shared responsibility for safety doesn’t mean top-level management passes the baton and relinquishes all control. It doesn’t negate the need for clearly defined roles and boundaries. Everyone must still understand the role they play in a safety culture, how they can fulfill that role, and what they can do when they have concerns.
Sharing the responsibility for safety allows supervisors and managers to hold employees accountable. It also allows employees to do the same for managers and supervisors. This two-way accountability has the power to break the cycle of mistrust to strengthen working relationships and encourage safer, more productive work. In a strong safety culture with effective shared responsibility, even when managers are present, they can be assured that safety processes are ingrained deep within the workforce.
Benefits of Shared Responsibility
Safety doesn’t happen by accident. By being intentional about safety and empowering employees to do the same, businesses enjoy many benefits:
- Improved employee engagement and overall morale
- Fewer injuries and incidents
- Increased efficiency, productivity, ROI
- Ability to do more – better, faster, and safer
- Actionable insights to guide process improvements