Building a Strong and Sustainable Safety Culture
Now more than ever, as businesses search for ways to increase the safety of their workforce and navigate this new age of safety, more are turning to this concept of safety culture to rethink and redefine their approach to safety. When businesses stop looking at safety as a process or a standalone concept and begin to view safety as a cultural entity, that’s when true meaningful change can occur.
The benefits of safety culture are far-stretching. Research shows that organizations that successfully foster a culture of safety reduce the cost of workplace injuries and incidents by up to 40%. Not only does a strong safety culture increase the safety of the workforce and reduce the costs associated with workplace incidents, but it also leads to increased employee engagement and improvements in productivity, quality, and ROI.
So just what does it take to build a strong and sustainable safety culture?
Shift the Mindset
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” right?
When it comes to safety culture, the reality is that it doesn’t need to be broken to warrant improvement.
Especially in today’s world, the landscape of safety is dynamic. Circumstances and guidelines change, and the approach to safety must echo that change. Adopting the safety culture mindset means rising to meet this challenge. It means being hungry for improvement. It means regularly asking the question “how can we do better?”
Safety culture goes beyond programs and processes. It goes beyond compliance. Safety culture shifts the mindset from good enough to never enough.
In a safety culture, safety is woven into every facet of a business. Safety goes beyond a simple slogan or tagline. Safety doesn’t just happen. It’s intentional, integral, and non-negotiable. It’s rooted in actions, not just promises. Safety is viewed as an investment, not a cost. It is put at the forefront of every aspect of operations, and everyone across the organization has a unique and important role in its success.
Create a Foundation for Success
To create a safety culture to withstand the test of time, consider these three foundational strategies:
- Commitment – While safety culture isn’t managed with a top-down approach, executive leadership must light the torch and set the tone by communicating a strong commitment to making safety the priority.
- Collaboration – Share the responsibility for safety and involve employees at all levels. Maintain open channels of communication and be open to feedback. Recognize the value of unique insights that frontline employees can bring to the table.
- Continuous improvement – Always strive for more. Allow feedback to inform growth.
Safety isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Businesses must consider their own unique needs and the needs of their employees to develop a safety culture that is meaningful, impactful, and effective. There must be perceived value and buy-in from all employees. Safety culture must be attainable, sustainable, and scalable.
Safety culture isn’t built overnight. It’s a dynamic process. By empowering employees, identifying strong leaders, and committing to making safety top priority, businesses can create the foundation for lasting success.
Embrace the Process
To be successful, safety culture must be malleable and allow informed growth. Safety isn’t static, and the development of a safety culture isn’t a finite process. Safety culture involves a true commitment to combating the status quo and continuing to learn, grow, and innovate to ensure organization-wide safety excellence.
Regulations and guidelines shift and evolve. Workforces change. The most successful businesses embrace this fluidity, frame it as opportunity, and allow it to guide continued improvement and growth to keep safety at the forefront of every aspect of operations. By committing to continuous improvement, businesses experience positive outcomes, not only in worker safety, but also productivity, efficiency and ROI.
Continuous improvement could mean providing additional training or changing the way training is delivered. It could mean redefining roles and identifying new safety leaders. It could involve reworking safety programs and redefining processes, or it could mean embracing digital innovation and implementing new tools. Continuous improvement looks different for every business, but at the core, it is simply about being in tune with changing needs and being willing and dedicated to meeting those changing needs with action and impactful change.
Engage the Workforce
2018 Gallup poll data revealed that the percentage of engaged workers across the US was 34%. While this number is an improvement upon previous years, there’s still a lot of room for growth.
To understand the true impact of workforce engagement, it’s important to take a look at a few statistics.
Workers who are disengaged have 37% higher absenteeism along with 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors or defects in their work. Knowing these facts, it becomes clear that engagement is a key success metric for any safety culture. Actively engaged employees are the safest and most productive employees.
Businesses can foster a sense of motivation and purpose in employees by meeting employee feedback, suggestions, and ideas with meaningful discussion and follow through. Engagement thrives when employees feel they have the power to impact meaningful change within their organization.
Employees do their best work when they feel they are supported by their organization. When provided constructive feedback and opportunities for growth and development, employees become more invested in their own performance as well as the performance of the business overall.
It’s really quite simple – invest in your employees, and they’ll invest in you.
Empower Employees and Identify Safety Leaders
Employee engagement improves when employees are given the power to make decisions and drive change. In a culture of safety, employees are viewed as partners, resources, and valuable assets rather than as liabilities. Businesses recognize that employees can offer unique insights into risks and issues that might otherwise be missed, and they engage in regular meaningful conversations with employees to gather this feedback. Furthermore, there is discussion around how this feedback could be used to drive process improvements.
Safety culture relies on shared responsibility and the identification of safety leadership across the organization. Contrary to common safety culture myths, safety culture isn’t managed from the top down. Everyone has a responsibility for safety, and safety leaders help to advocate for safety excellence to ensure safety remains top priority.
By identifying and empowering safety leaders at all levels, businesses can create an environment where employees take responsibility and ownership of their own safety and the safety of those around them. Safety becomes second nature and is at the top of mind, even when no one is watching.
Never underestimate the value of positive reinforcement. Recognition, appreciation, and gratitude are powerful motivators. In fact, Gallup studies show that receiving positive recognition and praise is shown to increase dopamine levels which helps promote increased employee engagement. Furthermore, purpose-based recognition is linked to lower turnover, and stronger organizational outcomes.
For those businesses with remote workers who may not have daily interaction with other individuals, this is especially important. By celebrating successes regularly and providing regular recognition, businesses can help to foster a feeling of connectedness that is often difficult for remote workers.
Successes and milestones should be celebrated often and across all levels – individuals, teams, and company-wide. This recognition doesn’t always have to come from managers and supervisors. Peer-to-peer recognition can be just as powerful. When businesses encourage employees to recognize one another for successes and milestones, teams strengthen and engagement increases.
By being intentional and purposeful about providing recognition and celebrating successes regularly, businesses can foster an environment of support and camaraderie and maintain high levels of engagement. When employees know their work is valued and appreciated, they are motivated to continue doing their best work.
There’s never been a better time than now to strive for nothing short of excellence in safety. By shifting the mindset, leveraging the knowledge and experience of the workforce, and celebrating success often, businesses can create a solid foundation for lasting safety culture.