Building a Safety Culture in 8 Steps

Even if your business is lucky enough to avoid on-the-job injuries, an unsafe work environment will still take its toll on your workforce. We as human beings are deeply influenced by our surroundings, and when we find ourselves in an unsafe environment we become anxious and start to look for a way out — whether we recognize it consciously or not. As such, unaddressed workplace safety issues can easily lead to employee absenteeism, poor quality of work, and increased turnover (along with the more obvious risks of injury or death).

With so much on the line, organizations across all industries are recognizing the importance of a culture of safety in the workplace. Here, we discuss 8 steps for building a safety culture. But first, let’s define what a safety culture is, and what it can mean to your business.

What Is a Safety Culture?

The term safety culture describes the overall attitude and approach to dealing with possible hazards in the workplace. This includes specific programs and policies aimed at mitigating safety risks, but it also goes further than that. It includes the cultural mindsets of employees, managers, owners, etc., and the behaviors they exhibit towards safety in the workplace. 

Naturally, different businesses face different challenges in mitigating on-site risk — for example, employees of construction companies and those that work with heavy machinery face more everyday personal risk than those who work in climate-controlled offices. Still, no matter what kinds of dangers your workforce may face, or even if you feel your workplace is already relatively risk-free, you can promote positive change in your organization by developing a safety culture. 

8 Steps to Creating a Safety Culture

Effecting positive change in an organization takes time, planning, and effort. And building a safety culture is no different. But given that work-related deaths and injuries cost an estimated $171 billion in 2019, it’s definitely worth prioritizing. More than that, making workplace safety a cultural focus shows your commitment to the people who keep you in business. When employees know that they are valued, they return that value through improved work quality and productivity, and that’s something even the most business-centric CEO can get excited about.

To help get you started making your company a safer place to work, here are 8 ways you can promote a culture of safety for your business.

1. Create a Vision

It’s hard to complete any journey if you don’t know where you’re going (or where you are). Lay the foundation of an effective safety culture by first surveying and working with your employees to determine their current attitudes towards safety and their thoughts on how effectively your organization addresses workplace hazards. Then use this information to establish objectives you can use in creating a safety-culture roadmap for your organization to follow. A clear, shared vision will help ensure that everyone is on board and knows what is expected of them. 

2. Train Everyone on Safety

Do you want everyone in your workplace to have a personal stake in the safety culture? If so, they’re going to need to know what hazards exist, how best to respond to certain situations, and what kind of an impact they as individuals can have on workplace safety. Provide ongoing training sessions and reviews, and your people will be better prepared and more committed. 

3. Lead by Example

It’s only natural that employees take their cues from management. Unfortunately, this means that if executives and other decision-makers are apathetic or dismissive toward safety, then their employees will probably follow suit. Leaders will need to be the most visible champions of company safety policies and programs. When employees see their managers demonstrate true commitment to building a safety culture, they’ll be much more likely to do the same. 

4. Create a Safe Reporting System

Your employees are most directly connected to the workplace, which makes them valuable resources in identifying and eliminating on-site health risks. Create a process workers can use to call attention to safety concerns without any fear of retaliation. Reward employees who take advantage of the program to report possible hazards or other issues.

5. Communicate Regularly

The more you discuss safety, the more it will become ingrained in your company culture. Create and share documentation about safety policies, solicit employee feedback, and schedule regular safety discussions throughout your organization. Take things further by having different employees lead these meetings, so they can share their personal perspectives and insights in addition to the ones you bring to the table. 

6. Empower Employees

Safety is too important to leave in the hands of only a few key individuals. Every employee should have the power to call attention to hazards or request that possibly dangerous operations or activities be reviewed to ensure that they meet established safety standards. Make sure that your employees understand that safety is a higher priority than production and that they should never hesitate to come forward if they think safety is being overlooked. 

7. Advocate Accountability

Accountability is the other side of the coin from employee empowerment. Your workers need to understand that reporting unsafe conditions is more than just a right; it’s a responsibility they have to help protect others and encourage positive change. Recognize those who take the initiative to follow safety policies and bring a high level of safety awareness to their jobs, and encourage everyone to accept their personal role in building a safety culture. 

8. Celebrate Success

With the right roadmap in place, you should be able to track the progress of your company through important safety milestones. As you reach various goals or overcome difficult challenges, share that success with the people who made it possible. Celebrate these achievements throughout the company in whatever ways seem appropriate, and ensure that everyone understands the significance of what they’ve accomplished. 

Improved Safety Should Always Be the Priority

More than productivity, stock value, quarterly earnings, or anything else, workplace safety should be your number-one priority. The good news is that developing a safety culture in your business will also help you achieve your other business objectives. After all, when employees feel safe, they perform better and produce more, and won’t be as quick to look for employment elsewhere. Simply put, decreasing injury and accident rates is only the beginning — building a culture of safety is a comprehensive solution that can positively impact every aspect of your business, and set you up for improved success for years to come.

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