Building a safety culture is a critical priority for companies today, yet for many it exists as a lofty goal rather than a concrete plan.
Safety culture is defined as a shared set of beliefs, attitudes and actions around safety that are demonstrated across all levels of the organization. Safety culture is centered on a common goal beyond just following rules, where everyone feels personally responsible for helping coworkers return safely home every day.
In addition to prioritizing employee well-being, creating a culture of safety offers many other benefits with a positive downstream impact. For example, reducing the number of incidents could mean improved workplace morale, increased productivity and efficiency, and reduced employee turnover.
To get there, companies need to go beyond basic compliance, fueling their aspirations with proactive strategies and habits. With that in mind, we explore seven essential practices for creating a culture of safety and how technology underpins the entire process.
The most important practice in building a culture of workplace safety is demonstrating leadership commitment. Safety culture is driven from the top down, so if management is complacent, the rest of your workforce will be too. Leadership sets the tone, which in turn fosters buy-in and helps overcome resistance to change.
So what does leadership commitment look like in practical terms?
Management makes a point to be present on the plant floor and have regular conversations about workplace safety
Leaders make safety part of every meeting and are vigilant about continuous improvement
Management models safe behaviors such as wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) like hard hats on the manufacturing floor or stopping to fix a trip hazard they see
In other words, your leaders must go beyond cheerleading and safety slogans. They must truly walk the talk, putting safety at the top of their priority list—even when it means productivity may take a back seat.
A strong safety culture requires an intentional shift away from blame and finger-pointing. That’s because when people think they will be punished for safety incidents and near-misses, they are more likely to hide them.
They’re also less likely to report hazards and safety observations for fear of being blamed, standing in direct opposition to behavior-based safety principles centered on observation and feedback.
Note that the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) Whistleblower Protection Program makes it illegal to retaliate against employees for raising concerns about safety. Retaliation includes not just demotion or firing, but also actions like isolating employees or falsely accusing them of poor performance.
The counterpart to eliminating blame is creating a culture of openness, where people feel safe reporting incidents and sharing their thoughts. An environment of psychological safety is where everyone feels comfortable speaking up—and where they know their input is valued.
To create this culture, you’ll need to make a concerted effort to:
Admit your own mistakes
Actively solicit suggestions with open-ended questions about what people are seeing and where they stand on certain issues
Show appreciation when people give feedback (even tough feedback) or point out hazards
Set clear expectations about why immediately reporting incidents is important
Shift your attitude from anger to curiosity when incidents and near-misses occur, even when they resulted from an unsafe behavior
It’s worth pointing out here that emphasizing zero incidents can end up working against you. When this is the goal, people may hesitate to report incidents, when what you actually need is more data surrounding incidents and their contributing factors.
A culture of safety is one where employee safety takes priority over meeting production goals, period. Each worker should be empowered to shut down an unsafe task, knowing that management has their back and will fix the problem.
Organizations must also prioritize systems and controls for driving continuous improvement in workplace safety performance. Allocating budget for safety improvements is an important part of demonstrating care for workers and showing that you value their safety above all else.
Many companies approach safety from a baseline compliance perspective, focusing exclusively on meeting the bare minimum requirements to avoid regulatory penalties. However, this approach will never be enough to create an effective safety culture.
Rather, companies must be proactive about going beyond compliance to create an environment where everyone buys into safety.
Proactive habits to focus on include:
Defining safe behaviors that you want to see
Making observation part of everyone’s daily routine
Encouraging timely hazard identification and reporting
Harnessing employee feedback and taking action on problems so that people know management is truly committed to safety
Safety culture relies on management involvement and ensuring accountability across the entire EHS process. Metrics and evaluation are a key part of this, supported by technology.
In a flourishing safety culture, leaders are accountable for not only lagging indicators, like incident rate and lost days, but also leading indicators. Leading indicators are metrics describing activities that correlate with future safety performance, such as number of overdue corrective actions or number of hazards identified. Employee feedback such as perception surveys can also provide key clues to where improvements are needed most.
EHS software like Dakota Software’s ProActivity Suite is an essential tool for tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) and pulling together data from sources such as:
Incident and observation reports
Safety training records
Regulatory compliance planning activities
Corrective actions and other compliance tasks
Dakota Insights ties all of this data together, providing actionable business intelligence on the overall health of your safety culture.
Sustaining your safety culture requires a feedback loop that ensures continuous improvement and prevents backsliding into old habits. The ProActivity Suite provides a structure for this process based on the Plan-Do-Check-Act approach, so you can make sure you are:
Developing clear safety policies and encouraging timely reporting
Providing ongoing training and skill development
Maintaining EHS compliance calendars
Conducting safety inspections and EHS audits
Closing out findings and implementing corrective actions
Monitoring safety metrics and reviewing them in management meetings
Making adjustments based on performance, whether it’s updating processes, documentation, or controls
EHS software acts as a key support through each one of these steps by providing structure and clear targets in place of fuzzy goals or safety slogans. A strong safety culture is vital to incident prevention and ensuring a thriving workforce that is efficient and productive, contributing to a more sustainable business.
View the Demo Library to learn how Dakota Software’s tools can help foster and sustain a strong safety culture in your workplace.