Safety Culture: Get the Team on Board

May 23rd, 2017 | By | Category: Health and Safety

EHS Journal - Big Chess by Robin Hindle

n 2017, workplace injuries and illnesses remain one of the most prolific threats to business stability and reputation. Safety technologies, procedures, policies, and programs have all evolved, yet there still remains a lot of work to do in many industries and workplaces to transform safety behaviors and attitudes. All too often, safety meetings in the workplace see team members fall silent, offer intermittent head nods, show resistance to change, stifle a yawn, or make regular glances at the clock. For those not directly employed in a safety role, discussions around responsibilities for workplace health and safety can be boring.

Developing an understanding and appreciation for safety programs, controls, and procedures among such personnel can be challenging. When policies and programs are introduced, team members may make an effort to adhere and comply initially, but this usually only lasts for a very short time. Why does this happen? It all boils down to the absence of a strong safety culture.


Safety Culture

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational, Safety, and Health Administration, “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.” Building an effective safety culture requires getting the entire team on board. Every employee at every level of the organization needs to play an active role to continuously improve workplace safety. Easier said than done? It takes time and commitment, but building an effective safety culture can be achieved, no matter how poor the current attitudes and behaviors of the team are towards safety.


Getting the Team on Board

From our decades of experience working as safety consultants and recruiters for some of the leading companies in the oil and gas, construction, engineering, power generation, and renewable energy sectors, we’ve uncovered the following steps that organizations can take to establish an impressive safety culture.

  1. Demonstrate safety leadership from the top down

Safety leadership and positive safety attitudes must be demonstrated from the top down. Personnel on the shop floor cannot be expected to embrace the safety program if board members and senior managers do not participate in or contribute to the safety program. Therefore, senior personnel should attend safety meetings, complete required safety training, and display the same positive safety behaviors that they wish other personnel to adopt. This commitment and involvement of top management sends a clear message that protecting worker safety is a key responsibility held by everyone in the organization.

  1. Involve every team member

Every team member should be assigned specific safety responsibilities that will become part of their performance evaluation. Managers should stress that safety compliance is not something that an employee should simply “keep watch” over, it’s a priority task just like any other responsibility that they need to manage to be successful in their job. To help employees become more aware of the company’s safety expectations, involve employees in regular safety inspections, allow them to shadow other employees who are role models, and engage with them in one-to-one meetings to review safety logs and recent performance.

This level of direct involvement helps to ensure that team members consistently keep safety front-of-mind and are aware that they must conform to the established policies and procedures. Where an employee is required merely to present themselves at a safety meeting and occasionally nod their head, they are never going to adopt the same level of safe behaviors as someone whose safety compliance is being actively assessed and monitored.

  1. Invest in training and development

Management teams are consistently under pressure to reduce costs, and in challenging economic times, the most frequent casualty to budget cuts has been investments in training and development. Regulatory compliance reasons aside, reducing investment in safety training is not a wise move. Every team member needs to be trained and mentored so their knowledge and appreciation for safety best practices will continuously evolve, leading to a similar evolution in safe behaviors and attitudes.

Investing in safety training and development should not stop at training of new staff or training the existing team with regards to new procedures. Organizations need to be prepared to go that extra mile, organizing refresher courses and toolbox talks to continuously reinforce the importance of improving workplace safety standards.


Dedicated Effort

Building an effective safety culture won’t happen overnight. As with transforming any human behavior, this takes time. However, taking the aforementioned steps has proven time and time again to transform the safety behaviors and attitudes of even the most stubborn members of the team. The time, effort, and commitment invested in building this safety culture will reap many rewards, not least by presenting the company in a positive manner to employees, prospective employees, customers, prospects, investors, and industry peers.


About the Author

Gavin Coyle is CEO of Coyle Group, a specialist safety company providing safety recruiting and safety consulting services. Gavin has worked with some of the world’s leading construction, oil and gas, power generation, and wind energy companies. He holds an MBS in Safety, Health & Welfare Management and has more than 20 years of experience in the health and safety industry.

Photograph: Big Chess by Robin Hindle, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.


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