Workplace culture is a significant component of workplace safety. Hazards like heavy equipment, motorized equipment, heights and dangerous chemicals to name a few, make jobs dangerous.
But even environments with few hazards can be dangerous if the workplace culture permits it. While some companies and even whole sectors experience very high levels of injury, others have seen steady reductions in incidents over the years. Culture is an important contributor to this performance and it is one of the most important tools managers can use to get results.
A culture of safety requires attention to both the rules and to the beliefs of everyone following those rules, an essential component of any safety program. Standards are needed to govern all aspects of the workplace environment, including rules for site setup and maintenance, welldefined job roles and responsibilities and processes for monitoring and ensuring a safe work environment.
But having staff that knows the rules is not the same as having staff that believe in them. Culture comprises both knowledge and belief.
Culture, in an organization, must begin at the senior levels and must be built into a company’s DNA. When safety impacts leadership and senior people, or directors are liable, then safety is not just an operational concern it becomes a strategic issue that must be dealt with at the senior levels of an organization.
Ideally a director should be assigned to the safety portfolio of a company and be responsible for initiatives that operationalize key safety issues.
At the board level, or executive level, goals for key safety metrics need to be decided on and plans put in place to determine the degree to which the company is meeting those targets. Metrics need to include both performance as well as attitudes to safety.
Building a culture of safety within an organization requires a clear understanding of the beliefs that need to be instilled in everyone, from the senior staff to the newest employee.
The cultural beliefs regarding safety must be well thought through and must be infused into every aspect of the employee management process from hiring to retiring. In addition to excellent training and ongoing safety reviews, employees should be encouraged and incentivized to participate in the process of ensuring that safety rules are adhered to.
Accidents are costly in more ways than one.
In addition to having direct and significant costs, accidents reduce the credibility of the company and can significantly impact a company’s productivity. Accidents or near misses also affect employee confidence and loyalty. How a company deals with incidents is an important measure, from the employee’s perspective, of the degree of importance that the company places on safety. In a culture of safety, employees believe that their active participation in the safety process is beneficial to them, to their co-workers and to the company. They believe that the extra work to follow the rules is worth it.
A culture of safety requires a commitment in time and energy at all levels of an organization. While there is a cost, the long-term benefits are significant.
A culture of safety will do more than just reduce accidents; it will create a more satisfying work environment and ultimately sends a message that management cares about its employees.
Bruce Matichuk is CEO and Kevin McNulty President of Coole Immersive Inc., an Alberta-based training products company serving the oil and gas industry. Their columns are distributed through Troy Media.