Building the Foundation of a Shared Safety Vision

22 May 2017

Does your company have a safety culture? It’s a question all safety managers need to ask themselves. Creating a safety culture isn’t easy. It involves overcoming tough challenges like changing worker behavior, getting senior management commitment, and creating a company-wide safety vision, as well as developing a safety management system and eliminating barriers to a safety culture. Challenges like these often cause safety managers to avoid building a safety culture.

But creating a safety culture pays big dividends. It increases competitiveness, boosts profitability, and cuts workers’ compensation costs. It also lowers insurance premiums, enhances employee engagement, and boosts worker retention—all while improving recruiting, increasing productivity, and eliminating safety audits and fines. In short, creating a safety culture helps companies reap the full benefits of their safety investments.

Creating a Shared Safety Vision

Companies without strong safety cultures tempt fate. They not only open themselves up to more workplace incidents, fines, and penalties but also increase the chances of fatal workplace accidents occurring. These things can bring a company down. Total economic costs of deaths and injuries in 2004 were an estimated $142.2 billion while a total of 120 million days were lost in 2004 due to deaths and injuries. The benefits of a shared safety culture far outweigh the risks.

The first step in building a foundation for a safety culture is creating a shared vision. A shared safety vision does several things: It articulates the safety goals and values that should resonate throughout the company, unites workers and managers, and provides a single purpose that engages all employees. It also supplies some direction for creating a safety management system. In short, it drives safety at a company.

There are many methods for creating a shared safety vision. Which you choose depends on the company. But one thing you must do when developing a safety vision is to include people from every level and department in this effort. Doing this adds a bit of complexity to the task in the short-term, but boosts employee engagement and commitment in the long-term. Creating a shared safety vision also requires a sustained effort every day to embed safety in an organization. That’s no small task. Some tips to kick-starting the process include:

  • Spending time inspiring workers with messages supporting the vision
  • Using both emotional and practical messages to make a vision’s impact personal
  • Providing time for people to understand and accept what safety means to them
  • Using case histories to help workers understand how the vision helps them daily
  • Reinforcing the messages with visual communication tools

Spending the time to create an authentic vision and embedding it in a company’s culture is the key to generating a company-wide safety culture.

Developing a Safety Management System

Safety vision

The next step in building a foundation for a shared safety culture involves creating an effective safety management system. The keys to doing this include:

  • Getting everyone to commit to safety
  • Engaging workers at all levels
  • Making safety an integral part of everyone’s job
  • Integrating safety into the worker appraisal process
  • Pre-qualify contractors for safety considerations
  • Creating accountability at all levels
  • Addressing safety at shift changes, weekly meetings, and job changes
  • Investigating incidents and near misses to determine root causes
  • Conducting regular safety inspections and audits
  • Practicing caring behavior within the organization

Practicing caring behavior takes many forms including continually looking for environmental hazards, seeking out unsafe work practices, and taking the appropriate corrective actions when dangerous conditions or behaviors occur.

Ultimately, you’ll want to create a system that shifts the organization’s focus from eliminating unsafe actions and reporting safety violations to taking proactive steps to improve safety and health conditions.

Eliminate the Barriers to a Shared Safety Culture

Safety vision

The third step in laying the foundation for a safety culture is overcoming the barriers that will occur when trying to embed safety in an organization. Unless you overcome these barriers, they’ll prevent your safety vision and culture from taking hold or attaining their full potential. The top four barriers to avoid include:

  • Attitudes — Resistance to change affects the impact of every safety management system. But it’s not the only negative attitude you’ll encounter in this process. A lack of trust, a climate of fear, a leadership that won’t let go, and a history of non-employee involvement are all barriers that can derail safety at a company.
  • Roles/responsibilities — Involving workers in planning and implementing a shared safety vision is great. But failing to clearly define roles and responsibilities within the safety program isn’t. Other barriers of this type include not involving key stakeholders or unions when planning, poor responses from supervisors and managers, and failing to get leadership’s full commitment.
  • Training — Not providing enough time for training to occur can also block a safety culture from taking hold. Doing these things frustrates employees and creates a harmful safety atmosphere.
  • Infrastructure — Systems and structures that don’t support work teams, too little or too much structure, poor communication, no transition plan, and a lack of positive recognition for all safety achievements are other barriers that can stop a shared safety vision from taking hold.

To overcome these barriers, you need to advocate for safety passionately every day. You also need to show that when it comes to safety, actions speak louder than words. Here are some actions you can take to eliminate the barriers mentioned above:

  • Model good safety behavior consistently and frequently
  • Ensure that management champions safety
  • Train workers thoroughly and adequately
  • Develop a solid transition plan
  • Recognize employees for safety accomplishments
  • Identify key personnel to become champions
  • Create awareness of core regulatory requirements
  • Define specific roles and responsibilities

Also, you need to
develop measurable objectives for things like hazards corrected and reported, safety inspections and audits, equipment checks (safety and non-safety), completed job safety analyses, and safety meetings scheduled and held.

Implementing some or all of these measures helps you not only overcome the most common barriers to a shared safety vision, but also creates a strong link between an active safety program and low rates of occupational injury and illness—the ultimate goal of all share safety visions.

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Jenny Snook

Jenny Snook is content executive at GoContractor with the job of researching the latest health and safety trends in the heavy industry. Her past-experience includes the research of large museum collections such as the Louth County Museum, many from the industrial age.

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