According to OSHA, “Safety cultures consist of shared beliefs, practices, and attitudes that exist at an establishment. Culture is the atmosphere created by those beliefs, attitudes, etc., which shape our behavior.” In short, a Safety Culture is a work environment where everyone works safely, feels comfortable communicating safety issues, learns from mistakes and successes, feels confident balancing challenges and risks, and trusts that safety is a priority.
Working with RMI to better understand what it takes to build a Safety Culture, this month we’ll explore some critical components necessary to establish a successful safety culture.
Components of a Successful Safety Culture
People often confuse values with culture, thinking one is necessarily the other. “If we have values (posted on a wall for all to see), then we have a great culture.” A company’s values are the bedrock underneath the surface that will be there 10 or 100 years from now.
They are the uncompromising core principles that the company is willing to live and die by, the rules of the game. Employees and customers can’t see our values. They come to understand what our values are based on what they see (behaviors/actions) and what they hear (communication).
Values are the principles that dictate every action, every decision, every interaction. These, taken together, define culture.
2. Communicate Clear Expectations
A significant challenge most organizations (and those in a management position) face is clearly communicating expectations and goals. While saying “be safe out there” creates the perception that safety matters, we’ll fall short every time unless we clearly define and communicate exactly what that means.
What are the specific, observable behaviors we need to see that demonstrate we’re being safe? What does it look like? Sound like? What are the specific, measurable goals and how are they communicated?
3. Define Responsibility
Sustaining a Safety Culture requires collaboration, commitment, and ownership….at every level of the organization. Who is responsible for safety? Every employee, top down. It is all too common to see coworkers throw one another under the bus, engage in some finger-pointing and ‘blamestorming’. After all, nobody enjoys being perceived as a failure, even to themselves.
To successfully build and sustain a culture of safety, there needs to be personal ownership and responsibility. Things go sideways, you take the blame, identify the root cause of what went wrong, and come up with a way to fix it.
4. Provide Accountability
Accountability has been defined as having the responsibility and authority to act and fully accept the natural and logical consequences for the results of those actions. In building a culture of safety, accountability means each person is responsible for embracing, demonstrating, and supporting safe practices. Expectations are clear, and we work together to achieve our goals.
Accountability doesn’t mean I work to catch you falling short, making mistakes, or failing. Accountability means we have agreed to the expectations and goals, we’ll work together to achieve them, and we’ll provide support when mistakes happen, or we fall short.
Building and sustaining a Safety Culture doesn’t happen overnight; it develops over time as a result of your commitment to your work environment, workforce, health and safety practices, and leadership. Catch our blog next month for 4 simple action steps that you can do quickly and easily to build your safety culture.