EHS OutLoud Blog

Keys for Developing a Strong Safety Culture

A company with a strong safety culture will typically experience fewer at-risk behaviors and will consequently experience lower accident rates, lower turnover, lower absenteeism and higher productivity. While the advantages of a strong safety culture are obvious, how can companies establish this type of culture?

Consider the following:

Establish and define safety responsibilities for all levels of the organization. Safety is a line management function, and the culture needs to be driven from the top down. Hold managers and supervisors accountable for visibly being involved. Lead by example.

Stress the importance of timely reporting. This includes reporting all injuries, first aid issues and near misses to management. Educate employees on trends, the accident pyramid and the importance of reporting all incidents. If underreporting has existed in the organization, prepare management for a probable initial increase in incidents and a temporary rise in rates. Assure them it will level off and then decline as the system changes take hold. Remember, paying for one doctor’s visit and one tetanus shot as a preventive measure is better than paying for an injury with an infection and possible lost time.

Evaluate, and if needed, rebuild systems. This includes considering rebuilding procedures for doing work, employee safety training, company disciplinary policies or safety and health policies. Remember the 3 “Es” of safety: engineer, educate, and enforce.

Ensure the safety committee is functioning appropriately. Do you have the best balance of upper management and employee representation? Does the safety committee have the authority to enact safety ideas or changes? The safety committee should be trained and have an incident investigation system ready to ensure that it is done timely, completely and effectively. It should get to the root causes and avoid blaming workers involved.

Meet regulatory standards. The regulations set out by OSHA, MSHA or state OSHA and other government agencies exist to protect employees. They are only the minimum standards or a starting point. While they are essential, you should aim higher. As safety professionals, we need to be familiar with all of the regulatory requirements and tailor our safety training and programs accordingly.

Observe behaviors. Safety observations, inspections or audits should be performed regularly. These actions should be completed by the safety manager, supervisors, safety committee or a combination of these team members. The data collected should be used to track whether additional safety training or work evaluation is needed, or to target specific areas for corrective actions and or safety improvement planning.

Safety observations to consider include: the position of workers (if they are near danger zones such as moving parts, machines, traffic, etc.); ergonomics (repetitive motion, bad work positioning); personal protective equipment (lack of proper PPE or the required evaluation of equipment selected for the work being done); tools and equipment (are workers using the right tool for the work being done?); and housekeeping (a messy work area is not a safe area).

When observing a work task being performed in a hazardous way, make sure the work stops safely and then initiate a conversation with the worker. First, be sure to comment on the safe behavior the worker is exhibiting. Discuss possible results and consequences of his or her unsafe act and urge the worker to think of a safer way to do the work. Get this employee’s buy-in on how to do the work safely. Finally, answer any questions the worker may have about safety.

Most of all, once the unsafe action has been resolved, thank the worker for his or her time and for working safely.

Robert Guerra has 28 years of experience as a safety professional with an extensive background in providing safety program administration, supervision and training for field personnel and safety inspection services for construction projects. He has supported safety for construction of highways, buildings, airports and oil well sites. Guerra currently serves as a senior principal technical specialist in the Los Angeles office of Parson Brinckerhoff (PB), a global infrastructure strategic consulting, engineering and program/construction management organization. He is a Certified Safety Executive; a Certified Safety Manager and Hazardous Materials Supervisor with the World Safety Organization (WSO); a Certified Safety and Health Manager with the National Safety Management Society (NSMS); and a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

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