Thursday, October 17, 2013

Developing a Strategic Safety Culture

Today’s safety professionals generally agree that establishing a strong safety culture is crucial to any company’s success, but with so many emerging approaches to safety culture, figuring out where to start can be difficult.

Dominic Cooper, CEO of B-Safe Solutions Inc., suggests looking at safety culture as being “like the parts of a moving vehicle engine,” all of which work simultaneously to achieve a common goal but require observation and maintenance to ensure optimal performance.

While Cooper cites a good vision for safety and recognition of unsafe behaviors as important attributes of a successful safety culture, he also stresses the need to develop a safety partnership between leaders and other workers. “Leadership really can’t be safety on it’s own; it can’t make people work safely,” Cooper says, noting that it is much more beneficial for managers and frontline employees to work together to create a culture in which safe production is the highest priority. “The key to safety is that you do safety with people, not at them.”

According to Cooper, many companies have broken safety cultures in which production and profit are valued over safety or workers are afraid to report problems to management. To repair a broken safety culture, all existing issues need to be explored and a systematic plan must be devised for implementing changes. Cooper suggests asking frontline employees about any problems they have noticed, because they often are more aware of unsafe procedures than managers are and their positions give them a vested interest in safety. “At the end of the day, if you want to improve safety culture, ask the workforce,” Cooper says.

Like many other safety culture advocates, Cooper believes safety leadership is an influential element of any safety culture. He says that while workers are many times blamed for noncompliance, those issues often stem from managers who fail to comply with rules and regulations and therefore set a negative example that workers follow. “Leadership has to demonstrate safe behavior,” says Cooper. “A lot of leaders talk about safety but don’t do safety.”

Good communication also plays a significant role in safety partnerships. For many companies, one-on-one conversations and feedback about safety are common, but the information exchanged is never shared with the majority of the workforce. Cooper says all data gathered should be discussed with workers during toolbox talk times and feedback loops should be established to ensure that everyone has received and understood the information.

To help safety professionals more efficiently develop their own safety cultures, Cooper and his colleagues have put together Strategic Safety Culture Roadmap, a free resource that provides advice on the many different paths that can be taken to create safety cultures that meet the unique needs of individual companies. Included in the document are detailed outlines of 10 different safety culture strategies. Find this tool here