Your employees are your most important asset, and you have a legal and moral responsibility to ensure that they are safe in the workplace. However, safety isn’t just a job for management: every member of your team has an important role to play in keeping the workplace safe.
Building and nurturing a workplace safety culture will help embed safe work practices in your organization so that it becomes second nature to your employees.
What is workplace safety culture?
Workplace safety culture is where the workforce is united to ensure the workplace is healthy, safe, and productive. Employees and management share common goals and values around workplace safety and see it as a priority for the organization.
This means that preventative, proactive measures are put in place where safety hazards are anticipated and steps are taken to correct these issues before any harm can be done. By taking ownership of health and safety issues in the workplace, your employees can help to prevent injury and serious harm.
Good workplace safety culture doesn’t just happen – you need to take proactive steps to build it over time and to continually reinforce its importance in the workplace by setting standards and following through.
When looking at your organization’s workplace safety culture, you should factor in the following:
- Building staff commitment to daily safe work practices
- Ensure you have specific protocols in place to deal with hazards in your workplace
- Deliver ongoing safety training to managers and workers
- Reinforce the message that safety is a shared responsibility in the workplace
- Provide mechanisms for people to report unsafe work practices – confidentially if necessary
Benefits of health and safety culture in the workplace
Many safety incidents in the workplace happen when organizations don’t take active steps to improve safety continuously. This has negative effects on workers and their families and employers alike. While the major objective of workplace health and safety is to limit the number of injuries or deaths in the organization, there are other benefits to making ongoing improvements to safety.
- Safer outcomes for employees
- Reduction in accidents and incidents
- Better business continuity with less down-time because of adverse events
- Avoiding occupational health and safety violations which can attract large penalties from regulators
- Lower levels of staff turnover
- Lower levels of absenteeism
- Reduced insurance claims
- Potential reduction in insurance policy premiums
- Avoidance of potential damage repairs
- Lower workers compensation costs
- Increased levels of employee engagement
- Improved morale
- Makes your organization the desired place to work
- Avoids reputational and brand damage
- Productivity and profit gains.
Signs you have a great safety culture
If you’re not sure whether or not your workplace has a great safety culture, ask yourself which of the following are happening in your organization:
- The leaders in your company are committed to improving and maintaining safety and promote safety culture.
- Safety always takes precedence over other priorities – even if it means delays or increased costs
- Your company has invested in resources to improve health and safety outcomes
- When problems are identified, they are resolved before they can cause harm
- You communicate regularly with employees about health and safety issues
- Safety items are priorities at team meetings
- Employees feel safe and comfortable reporting safety concerns to management
- Staff are rewarded and recognized when they make a positive contribution to safety in the workplace
- Complying with and enforcing safety protocols is one of the non-negotiable conditions of employment within your company
- Management considers that safety is an investment in the company, not just an expense.
- You keep an accurate log of any hazards and incidents, and management doesn’t lie or cover up if something goes wrong.
- Potential safety issues are dealt with quickly and there is little red tape to ensure that hazards are removed.
The signs of a bad safety culture
There are clear warning signs that a company may have a poor safety culture on the flip side. If you recognize any of these in your workplace, it should sound warning bells:
- Safety and accident incidents are not reported or investigated
- Safety and accident incidents are actively covered up by management
- There are a lot of workplace injuries
- There have been negligent deaths
- Employees are encouraged to cut corners and take risks that could endanger their safety
- Your company is being sued for damages by injured employees
- Your company is involved in a wrongful death lawsuit
- Your insurance premiums are going up by a lot – or you may have had an insurance policy refused.
- Company management puts the blame on employees when accidents occur
- Profits are prioritized over employee safety
- There is poor – or no – communication about safety in the workplace.
How to build a safety culture in the workplace
If you feel that your company’s safety culture is lacking, it isn’t too late to turn that around. Creating a culture of safety doesn’t happen overnight, but there are a series of steps that you can take to make the necessary improvements to your workplace safety culture.
1. Make safety a priority for leadership
The leaders in your organization have a critical role to play in building a safety culture. They set the standards in the company that everyone else should work by. When management models appropriate behaviors and leads discussions on safety, it helps to cement the concept as a key organizational priority.
2. Conduct workplace safety assessments
Management and human resources should personally inspect facilities to see first-hand what working conditions are like for employees. This is particularly useful when leaders may work from another location from sections of their workforce. By doing this, they can get a sense of what improvements to safety need to be made and show the workers that they place safety as a priority by being there.
3. Ensure all employees are given appropriate safety training
Employees must know what the potential hazards and risks are in their workplace and the steps they need to take to ensure that they stay safe, and that their colleagues also stay safe. Safety training should happen as part of onboarding with the company, and should also be an ongoing commitment through refresher training.
4. Safety should be part of your strategic planning
In all of your corporate and business planning, employee health and safety should be given due consideration. You should also ensure you develop any relevant protocols, policies and procedures relating to workplace safety that are easy for employees to understand and easy for them to access.
5. Form workplace health and safety committees
Committees dedicated to improving workplace safety can form representatives from management, HR and employee cohorts. This is a participative and democratic way to look at potential risks and identify solutions across the workforce.
6. Allocate a budget to workplace health and safety
If you don’t properly fund workplace health and safety, the bottom line is a lot of your efforts will be fruitless. While improving employee behavior is part of establishing a workplace safety culture, it isn’t the only thing that is required. Depending on the industry you’re in, you may have to make structural improvements to facilities or invest in personal protective equipment and other safety tools for your employees.
7. Understand your legal obligations
There are different legal requirements for employers around the world, and there can be severe penalties for failing to provide a safe workplace. You should understand what your regulatory obligations are and take steps to ensure that you comply with any requirements.
8. Get outside help
Outside consultants and government resources can help you look at workplace safety in a new way and highlight areas where improvement is necessary.
9. Communicate regularly with employees about safety
Communication is key to keeping workplace safety front of mind for your employees. To be effective, you need to communicate clearly and concisely in ways that will cut through other distractions. Communication should be regular to help reinforce its importance. Digital signage, corporate screensavers and wallpapers, and scrolling desktop tickers are innovative ways to highlight workplace health and safety issues.
Consider using different communication channels and don’t just rely on email or intranet content, particularly when you have workforces that aren’t office or desk-bound. Construction communication, for example, is more effective with the use of employee apps.
10. Ensure you can reach people quickly in an emergency
There are many scenarios in the workplace where employee health and safety could be endangered on a large scale. This could be an explosion, fire, chemical spill, gas leak, natural disaster or even an incident like terrorism or an active shooter. If an event like this happens, time is of the essence and you should ensure that you have a way to alert your employees quickly so that they can take the necessary steps to be safe.
11. Ensure you follow health advice during the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected workplaces around the world. Anywhere that involves people coming together can put them at risk of exposure to the virus. The health authorities in your jurisdiction will have issued strict advice that must be followed. This will include how many people can be in the office at the same time, social distancing requirements, mask use and other hygiene measures.
Providing personal protective equipment to employees and making modifications to the workplace is necessary to keep them safe as the pandemic continues. Ignoring advice from health officials means you will be putting your employees at unacceptable risk.
12. Reward and celebrate safety
Reward and recognition programs on just about any topic are a good way to encourage participation and boost engagement. This absolutely applies to workplace health and safety! When employees take steps to make their workplace safe, you should acknowledge their contribution and thank them in front of their peers. This helps to reinforce the idea that workplace safety is a joint commitment of management and employees.
13. Anticipate and overcome resistance to safety improvements
You may find some push-back from employees who don’t want to have to change the ways that they do things for the sake of safety. Resistance to change is a normal part of any type of change program, and anticipating it means that you can be prepared to challenge it head-on.
14. Have good reporting and incident investigation processes in place
When an incident or accident, or near-miss happens in the workplace, it’s critical that it is reported, investigated and assessed so that steps can be taken to prevent future incidents. Your employees should know how to report these incidents and be able to do so easily.
15. Review and make improvements
To really embed a culture of workplace safety, you have to accept that it is an ongoing, constantly evolving concept. Regular reviews are necessary so that you can identify any issues and make improvements.
How to measure your company’s safety culture
It can be difficult to measure whether or not a company has a good safety culture, but a few different quantitative and qualitative tools will help you determine if you are on the right path.
1. Health and safety audits by external auditors
Annual health and safety audits carried out by impartial, external auditors, can highlight any areas for concern around health and safety compliance in your workplace so that you can then make the necessary improvements to ensure that your employees are safe. By doing this annually, you will also be able to see if your organization’s overall health and safety rating is going up or down, and on a long enough timeline, you will be able to identify any significant data trends.
Annual assessment means that any issues that have emerged undetected since the previous audit can be fixed more quickly than if you don’t have an assessment at all.
2. What does your own data say?
There will be a range of different types of data in your organization that you can draw on to determine the health of your workplace safety culture. Look at things like the number of incidents, accidents and near misses that are being reported, workers compensation claims, insurance premiums, sick days and lawsuits from employees.
How do these compare to the previous year? Or the one before that? This data can be analyzed and compared every year to benchmark aspects of workplace safety culture.
3. Quiz and test your employees’ safety knowledge
One of the quickest and easiest ways to determine if you have a good workplace safety culture is to test your employees’ knowledge on the subject. Quick quizzes can help you establish if there are knowledge gaps to provide the appropriate training and other resources to overcome this.
4. What do your satisfaction survey results say about health and safety?
Your employees are the best-placed people to know if there is a culture of safety within the workplace. At the end of the day, if all your efforts amount to lip service, employees will see through this. Suppose you conduct regular employee engagement benchmarking surveys. In that case, you should include workplace health and safety questions to get the required feedback from employees to help you get an accurate picture of what s happening on the ground.
Building a safety culture in a workplace can be challenging, but it is a worthwhile pursuit. In addition to keeping your employees safe, your organization will experience better operational performance, productivity, and business continuity improvements.