For at-risk organizations to be truly successful, they need to understand the value of safety culture in the workplace. Safety culture is important because it plays an essential role in establishing the overall organizational culture and can significantly impact the well-being of employees.
What is Safety Culture?
Safety culture can be described as the values, behaviors, and attitudes an organization and employees have towards safety and its importance in the workplace.
However, creating a strong safety culture doesn’t happen overnight. OSHA states:
“It is frequently a multi-year process. Employer and employee commitment are hallmarks of a true safety culture where safety is an integral part of daily operations.” A strong safety culture enables organizations to enhance overall safety performance, improve communication, empower employees, which all contribute to a reduction in incident rates and decreased costs.
Why is Safety Culture Important?
A strong safety culture ensures that a high level of standards is set for all safety processes. The organization sets strict processes for reporting, inspections, training and overall safety management. OSHA believes that “progress toward a true safety culture uses accountability systems. These systems establish safety goals, measure safety activities, and charge costs back to the units that incur them.” This enables organizations to create a certain level of discipline towards safety, while preparing them for audits and ensuring they are OSHA compliant with all workplace safety standards. It also helps reduce the amount of time preparing for audits, which again, improves the overall productivity of an organization.
In addition, implementing a positive safety culture promotes a sense of commitment to safety and helps encourage employee participation and accountability in workplace safety. OSHA states: “employees go beyond “the call of duty” to identify unsafe conditions and behaviors, and intervene to correct them. For instance, in a strong safety culture any worker would feel comfortable walking up to the plant manager or CEO and reminding him or her to wear safety glasses. This type of behavior would not be viewed as forward or over-zealous but would be valued by the organization and rewarded. Likewise, coworkers routinely look out for one another and point out unsafe behaviors to each other.” When everyone in the company shares the same beliefs and plays their part, safety becomes a priority and the workplace becomes a safe place.
However, in order for a safety culture to truly work, commitment is required from the entire organization, especially at the executive level, as their thoughts and beliefs trickle down and impact the actions of employees. Ergonomics Plus claims: “in great safety cultures, leadership proves their commitment to safety through their actions and how they empower others throughout the organization to win with their safety initiatives.” The organization should facilitate regular safety committee meetings and create recognition programs to reward their safety champions. This enables employees to be better equipped with knowledge and resources, as they are highly engaged in safety programs and are able to contribute to the betterment of the organization’s health and safety program. In fact, a recent survey conducted by EHS Daily Advisor found that over 90% of safety professionals believe increased worker participation is key to improving safety performance.
By building a better safety culture and encouraging higher levels of worker participation and employee commitment to safety, organizations also improve safety performance, which ultimately results in fewer incidents. Select International shared Kroger Manufacturing’s success story which is a great example of this: “At its worst, Kroger Manufacturing reached an average of 18 OSHA reportables per 200,000 hours worked for its 10,000 employees at 34 job sites. This led management to invest in a safety culture program that, over the span of 10 years, reduced their recordable injury rate by 83%.” By reducing the number of incidents, you are not only increasing the productivity of your organization by reducing time stoppages, but you are also reducing thousands of dollars in operating costs that are incurred when incidents happen.
Implementing a strong, positive safety culture requires commitment and hard work from all parties involved. It is an organizational change that may not reap overnight results, but will foster long-term benefits. It contributes to higher productivity, lower turnover rate, increased worker participation, and higher levels of commitment to safety. All of these factors lead to a reduction of workplace incidents which helps to lower operating costs and improve your business’s bottom line overall. In short, creating a strong safety culture doesn’t just make your company a safer place to be, it lays the foundation for building a better business.