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Creating a Workplace Safety Culture

What is Safety Culture? If you’ve heard the phrase, “the way we do things around here,” then you’re already familiar with the concept. Safety culture stems from the organizational culture and can be explained as the behavior, practice, and values employees share regarding safety in the workplace. Workplace-related injuries often result from inadequate or inattention to policies or procedures related to safety. But, through commitment to safety and continued hazards and safety training, an organization can nurture a functional safety culture. 

Why is Safety Culture Important?

According to OSHA, occupational injuries and illnesses cost businesses $170 billion per year. This affects not only workers’ compensation costs but costs due to retraining, both of which come directly out of company profits. By simply implementing a functional safety culture, companies can reduce costs from injuries and illnesses anywhere between 20 and 40 percent.

It’s not just about saving money, though. Every employee plays a critical role in the workplace. Establishing safety culture creates mutual trust among employees and fosters a community which encourages learning and open and honest reporting of injury or violations. This rewards innovation and suggestions, allowing safety procedures to continuously improve. In short, safety culture creates a more positive community within the workplace.

How Do You Know if You Have a Poor Safety Culture?

Here are a few factors that may indicate a substandard safety culture in the workplace:

  • Widespread, routine procedural violations – Lack of understanding or adherence to safety policies and procedures.
  • Poor incident reporting/accident reporting, investigation, or analysis – Most accidents go unreported unless especially serious. Analyses of incidents do not go beyond legal requirements or consider human factors.
  • Decision making that puts production or cost before safety – Health and safety are considered to be extra costs to the company. Creating maximum profit is the main priority, and extra costs should be avoided.
  • Poor communication of safety issues within the workforce – Management is not implementing safety procedures or educating employees on safety culture.

How to Motivate Employees to Care?

You should certainly express your deep level of concern for safety to your employees. However, one of the most important and most effective ways to promote safety culture is to encourage employees to look out for one another. Reiterate that everyone is responsible for the safety of others.

If there’s a way within your organization to tie safety culture to direct reward or compensation, it’s worth looking into. It’s central, however, to reiterate that safety is still the most important incentive.

Ultimately, all levels have to be involved. Management should monitor safety practices and consider delegating additional safety monitoring responsibilities to an employee with an exceptional attitude toward safety culture. Not only can this individual report any incidents, they can also determine ways to continue fostering safety culture throughout the organization.  

Key Aspects of an Effective Safety Culture

  • Commitment on all levels
  • Visible management
  • Effective communication among all levels of employees
  • Active employee participation
  • Mutual trust within the workplace

How to Build a Safety Culture

  • Evaluate risks - Analyze past incidents and near misses; identify the risks before they result in loss.
  • Design a plan to keep safe - Get commitment throughout the work force, stay focused, and prioritize efforts.
  • Implement plan - Actively and openly communicate the plan with employees. Require frequent training sessions and drills.
  • Monitor, evaluate, and improve your plan - Monitor, plan, and collect feedback. Make adjustments when necessary, and recognize success. 

Change Begins at the Top

To change your organization’s culture, the leaders must lead the way. If they take safety seriously, eventually employees will follow suit and actively work toward improving the culture. Keep safety a part of the conversation, whether in a meeting or at the water fountain. It also helps to have routine drills and training. With commitment from the top, continued practice, training, and time, your organization will see a marked improvement on the attitude and culture surrounding safety throughout the workplace.

Unsure of where to start? Contact your VGM Insurance Account Manager today to learn more about creating a safety culture in your organization!


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