Leadership Perspectives Blog

You Can’t Fix a Broken Safety Culture

Companies need to realize that a strong safety culture requires an ongoing commitment – it’s not something that you just “fix.”

Recently, a client decided to terminate a safety achievement program that we designed and managed for them. The program was built on monthly meetings that engaged the workforce. Workers were thanked for their contributions and suggestions, and recognized for both team and department accomplishments.

Every meeting featured the workers as active participants, applauding and supporting each other’s efforts to establish a safe and injury-free workplace.

In the two years that the program was in place, the company’s injury rate dropped dramatically – to the tune of 75 percent fewer claims.

Based on those results, management decided that the program had done its job and no longer was needed. A stronger safety culture had been established.

Really?

Actually, there are several problems with that.

Safety culture – the reason for most injuries – never can be established as a permanent value … not without constant involvement and engagement. It requires a commitment on everyone’s part – especially management – to the belief that safety is the highest priority in the company. Productivity is important, but it doesn’t outrank the personal safety of every individual who works for the company.

By minimizing engagement, this employer sends exactly the wrong message. When people participate in something, it becomes more personal, and when people view safety in a personal light, they’re more likely to take personal responsibility for their behavior. When that happens, they’re less likely to take unnecessary risks and chances, and less likely to knowingly file a fraudulent claim.

Ultimately, it’s the attitude that the workers have toward safety that determines the company’s safety record. When this company chose to have less engagement, it sent a signal to its workers that safety now is less important than it was.

The lesson here is a simple one: The commitment to building a strong safety culture needs to be genuine, and ongoing. To make injuries a rarity, safety needs to be embraced as a core value of the organization, with time, energy and resources devoted to its promotion.

Engaging and celebrating the people who do their jobs the right way provides an important component of a strong safety culture.

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