Building a Strong Safety Culture

One telltale sign of a successful, sustainable business is a strong safety culture. When asking any employer if they “believe” in workplace safety – you will almost always get a resounding yes; but words are hollow unless they are proven through action and commitment. Much like a professional bodybuilder, a safety culture is not built overnight. It takes constant attention, research, and dedication to achieve your desired results. In fact – contrary to popular belief, a bodybuilder does not achieve his desired physique through himself alone, it takes a trainer, proper educator,  and like-minded individuals surrounding you in order for all of the puzzle pieces to come together to form the picture on the box. So, knowing this, what can you put into practice to help build your safety culture into something you can be proud of?

The foundation to a strong culture of safety is employee buy-in. Buy-in is achieved not through walking around as a “safety cop” but is built through mutual respect and a common goal. So if you are a manager, team leader, or a safety professional – next time you walk through your facility don’t necessarily focus on minor safety infractions, but instead focus on the foundation of your safety program – the employee. If you want to turn safety into a positive thought, not the “Oh here we go, safety guys coming through again” mindset so many of us are guilty of – spend some time with your team members. Figure out what is important to them, and why and how you can leverage that into achieving your desired results. Most Americans spend 40 hours every week during the same job, if you want some REAL input on how you can improve – ask the experts, your frontline team members actually performing the very job you so badly want to protect them from. By spending some quality time with your team, you not only build a personal relationship – but you may uncover some new information that you can use to continuously improve your culture of safety.

Why do you go to work? The answer is obvious, to collect a paycheck. So, knowing this, how can you motivate a worker or department to achieve your desired goals and make safety at the forefront of their mind? Easy, the answer is to give them some incentive. Safety does not have to be boring; it will be what you make of it. If you are constantly barking orders, being a bearer of bad news…you will most likely not get the desired outcome you wish. However, if you make safety fun, engaging and something that brings a positive reaction to the employee, you are much more likely to see the results you are aiming for. This could be something as simple as company recognition or in the case of our company, we award employees $25 for reporting a near miss or a safety improvement form. This is a small expense – but the payout is sometimes invaluable.

Lastly, and most important, give a reason why. I do not have children, but many of my friends and family do – ask any of them, what is your child’s most used word and almost always they reply “why?”. Smart folks do not blindly follow orders, they need to understand the reason behind them and come to their own conclusion. By explaining how a machine works, the hazards in a certain chemical, or whatever safety measure is in place at your facility – be sure to provide the “why?” behind the policy. It is easy for a long-time employee, supervisor, or safety professional to assume that an employee understands the reason behind a specific regulation, but often this is not true. The next time you conduct a safety meeting, rollout a new policy or get on to someone for not wearing their correct PPE – explain WHY it is necessary.

By combining all these elements, you will see an improvement in your safety program – this is proven. However, going back to our bodybuilder analogy, this does not happen overnight. It requires consistency, dedication, and education. Look at your safety culture and think to yourself; am I following the steps outlined in this article? If not, start today. If you are – fantastic, keep up the hard work, and keep striving for the zero-injury culture we all wish to achieve.

Erek Downes – Cee Kay Supply Safety Coordinator