Safety culture is spoken frequently but it is infrequently well understood. To be successful a commitment, safety must permeate the corporate culture. A strong safety culture is unlikely to just exist, but it will need to be defined and built from the top down, guided by the leadership team and management. In the 1930’s and 1940’s H.W.Heinrich developed a behavior based safety concept. He researched thousands of insurance reports and came to the conclusion that approximately 90 percent of industrial accidents were due to employee failures. Therefore to correct the issue, worker behaviors need to be changed, perhaps by instilling safety into corporate culture. The question is, how can this be done in practice? These are our top three ways in which to build a safe corporate culture.
1. Empower employees to be observant and speak up
There will be occasions where something just does not seem right and an employee being empowered to speak up and halt what is in progress, could avoid a serious event from occurring. If employees are going to feel that they have the authority to pause a working practice, they need support from management and the organizational leaders. An employee’s caution could prevent an accident, but on the other hand they may have been overly cautious, and they need to be able to raise their voice without the fear of reproach from management or colleagues. In many organizations there will be social norms in play which may prevent for example more junior staff from feeling they can appropriately raise concerns, so culture has to shift to accommodate everyone having a voice.
2. Organizational risks are understood
This seems simple but it can often be missed. Employees should be aware of the inherent risks in the task they are undertaking, whether it be a service or a product they are involved in delivering. Employees should be trained on the risks, and how to mitigate against them, thereafter they should receive periodic training to try and avoid complacency. Additionally, it is important to have a record of all accidents and near misses and ensure that employees are aware of both. This is not designed to instill fear in employees, but to bring their attention to the risks and associated safety methods used for mitigation.
3. Avoid the blame game and encourage continuous improvement
Accidents happen and very often organizations will not discuss them openly. To genuinely instill a safety culture, accidents need to be discussed and valuable insights should be drawn out and there should be learning. The result should be a focus on continuous learning and improvement. Managers and leaders should not look to assign blame when something goes wrong, but encourage openness and information sharing. One way to share information is to agree a set of reports and an associated communication strategy.
Organizations don’t want industrial accidents to happen for a myriad of reasons. We know that most accidents can be avoided by employees themselves. However, very often employees become complacent, or they are poorly trained, or they see something go wrong but are just too intimidated to speak up. A safety culture seeks to create an organizational environment enforced by the management and leadership team which engenders open conversation without fear of reproach. It also looks worth to be discusses and learnt from past mistakes and ensured that all employees understand the risks the organization faces. There is a number of ways to develop this culture, some of which have been identified above, but at its core are trust, openness, training, and commitment to continuous improvement.