Accident investigations of disasters such as Chernobyl and the Challenger Space Shuttle have highlighted the tragic impact poor safety culture can have on an organization. In the past, accident investigations focused on “operator error” and equipment malfunction as the cause of most accidents. We now see that an organization’s culture can have a significant impact on safety. Safety culture reflects the safety attitudes and beliefs that shape an organization. To have a positive safety culture you must build personal commitment to safety, strong communication between management and employees, training, and learning from mistakes. The safety culture is closely tied to what behaviors are accepted and rewarded in the workplace.
What can Industries do to build their safety culture?
- Maintain a sense of vulnerability. Even when accidents are not frequent you must maintain hazard identification systems and awareness. Review new chemicals, require regular hazard inspections, maintain equipment (replace missing guards, dampen vibration to reduce noise, check operation etc.), and thoroughly assess the impact of new hazards, such as new equipment, in the workplace. Maintain health and safety training and encourage employee feedback.
- Investigate near misses. Don’t accept a near-miss as a positive. The only difference between a near-miss and an accident is luck. Determine what can be done to eliminate the risk before an accident occurs.
- Follow through. When an accident or near-miss investigation determines a root cause, determine the corrective action to eliminate the risk. Once the corrective action has been put in place follow up to make sure the corrective action is working and a new hazard wasn’t introduced.
- Communicate. Build strong communication between employees, supervisors and management. Develop a safety committee to review accidents and new hazards. Encourage supervisors to meet regularly with their staff and to discuss safety issues. Employees always reflect what is important to their supervisor.
- Teach. Provide employees with the training and tools necessary to do their job safely when they are hired or start a new job. Refresh their knowledge when the job changes and annually.
- Understand how behaviors affect the safety culture. An employee’s behavior is influenced by what is acceptable and rewarded in the workplace. If unsafe behaviors are ignored or accepted they will eventually lead to an accident. A strong safety culture has accountability.
Remember, a positive safety culture has impacts in all areas of operation. A safe work environment means fewer injuries, less lost time, better quality work, higher morale, and lower worker’s compensation costs. When employees have clear safety protocols, training to do the job correctly, the ability to give feedback, and management support, you will have built that strong safety culture.