Rewriting the Conversation about Safety Culture

June 1, 2017
Grainger has released a whitepaper on building a sustainable safety culture in time for June's National Safety Month.

A new whitepaper from Grainger examines safety culture as a critical concept for explaining, understanding and preventing workplace incidents. The whitepaper, titled “How We Should Talk about Safety Culture: Rewriting the Conversation,” was released conjunction with National Safety Month.

The whitepaper, which was published in Grainger’s online resource center the Safety Record, introduces a new model that defines safety culture as an outcome of what management says about safety and what workers see, rather than a starting point that regulates safety practices. With the outcome model as a guide, safety leaders can be more proactive – recognizing safety improvements as an economic and competitive opportunity – as opposed to viewing safety as a cost or threat and taking a day-to-day reactive approach.

“National Safety Month is a great opportunity to raise awareness of the importance for businesses to continuously look at and improve their safety practices,” said Travis Kruse, Grainger senior director of safety services and solutions. “Through this white paper, we want to help safety leaders reframe the conversation with their stakeholders around building a strong safety culture and how it can influence the overall effectiveness of their operations while preventing workplace accidents.”

The whitepaper focuses on the operational setting, because operational workers “are the most likely to suffer workplace injuries and illness.” The whitepaper examines the connection between safety and operations, “since these functions share the same space, involve the same workers and production systems and assume the same risks and contingent liability. Because of their interconnectedness, it’s vital to examine the two areas simultaneously,” according to the whitepaper.

It goes on to note that at the operational level, internal stakeholders – owners, shareholders, leaders and employees – and external stakeholders – suppliers, insurers and government and non-government organizations – are able to see the organization’s safety management values, practices and outcomes in action. “By taking an operations perspective, we can gain new insights into how safety culture and practices relate to operational practices, helping guide efforts to improve safety and operational outcomes simultaneously,” the paper says.

According to the whitepaper, the notion that “safety culture matters isn’t useful by itself.” Rather, safety professionals need to explain to stakeholders – from management to employees to customers –  the management, organizational and financial opportunities that open up when a strong safety culture exists. For example:

  • At the executive level, senior-level executives “will appreciate the bearing that safety culture has on competitiveness and brand reputation.
  • At the managerial level, “engineers and operations management specialists will be motivated to join forces with safety specialists to protect workers.”
  • Workers and their representatives “will have a better understanding of how safety management and technical practices improve their well-being.”

“It’s time to rewrite the conversation about safety culture,” according to the whitepaper. “Instead of blaming persistent safety problems on hazy ideas about culture, safety leaders can use the thoughts outlined in this paper to develop a more effective framework. Instead of seeing safety culture as an antecedent, they can see it as an outcome – an outcome that they can influence with

efforts to improve safety values and practices.”

Launched in October, the Safety Record by Grainger is an online resource center for customers to stay current on trends in worker and facility safety. The website provides workplace safety managers with information needed to help keep their employees and facilities safe and minimize the opportunities for injuries or fines from violations.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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