According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the United States had an average of 14 worker deaths per day in 2017. Although they report that death rates are down from an average of 38 per day in 1970, there is still room for improvement. Organizations need to make health and safety the forefront of their operations, thus being defined by a culture of safety. OSHA describes safety culture as a set of “shared beliefs, practices, and attitudes [about safety] that exist at an establishment.” When a workplace has a strong safety culture, people at all levels of the organization work together to prioritize everyone’s wellbeing. In addition to protecting workers, a culture of safety protects the organization’s name and reputation.
Many sources on safety in the workplace report that overwhelming production demands lead to hazardous conditions. It is common for employees to be overscheduled during periods of high demand, resulting in levels of fatigue that increase the risk of injury. In addition, it is common for companies to have a few people do the work of many to reduce costs. Low unemployment rates and difficulty finding qualified employees only deepens the challenge. When production demands become unreasonably high, safety policies and common-sense precautions may be thrown out the window to get the job done.
According to “Ten Guidelines for Improving Safety Culture Based on Worker’s Feedback,” found on the Industrial Safety and Hygiene News website, organizations should simply hire more employees and should offer better pay. These are great ideas to ensure that employees are highly skilled and safe, but employers may believe that following through would hurt profits. According to “3 Business Benefits of a strong Workplace Health and Safety Culture,” by James Huges, business profits should actually grow when safety is a top priority. Huges explains that employees will be more committed to a company that cares about their wellbeing and states that “There will also be less disruption to your business, as staff will have fewer sick days and there will be fewer injuries at work.” Less money will go towards workers’ compensation and paid sick leave, and more employees will be present to maximize work capacity. Both articles also highlight the fact that a safety culture gives organizations a competitive edge when hiring. Why would a highly skilled candidate with multiple job offers choose to work for an organization that jeopardizes employee health and wellbeing? The bottom line is that the benefits of implementing a safety culture in the workplace far outweighs initial costs.
Those at the top of an organization must be fully on board with implementing a safety culture. Once they realize the benefits of doing so, they must make sure that employees at all levels are fully involved in the transition to a safer workplace. OSHA provides many suggestions to help organizations launch a safety initiative, which will be discussed below.
Trust is a crucial factor when changing company policies and procedures. It is imperative that management is upfront and transparent about what changes are going to be made. In addition, management should fully explain the rationale behind these changes and should encourage the input of people at all levels. Employees are more likely to embrace a new culture of safety if they involved and valued every step of the way.
A safety vision should guide the process of creating a safety culture. OHSA recommends that organizations begin by conducting a self-assessment of their safety compared to a model organization within the same industry. Next, representatives from all levels should work together to establish safety goals along with policies that will propel the organization forward. It is important that progress can be objectively measured. For example, the percentage of hazards reported and corrected may be recorded to measure attentiveness and attention to safety concerns. OSHA cautions against using the number of reported injuries as a main measurement for safety improvements. It is explained that people may be tempted to keep injuries private to make it appear that a goal was met. Nobody wants to feel like they are the reason that the organization failed to improve.
Responsibility and Accountability go hand in hand when creating a safety culture. Once again, everybody needs to be involved. Different levels should be assigned responsibilities that help improve overall safety. For example, managers and supervisors should be responsible for ensuring that demands are not so high as to compromise safety. Employees who are actively involved in production should be responsible for following all safety guidelines even when failing to do so would speed up the task. Everyone needs to be held accountable for their actions. In fact, OSHA gives an example of unapologetic accountability stating, “For instance, in a strong safety culture any worker would feel comfortable walking up to the plant manager or CEO and reminding him or her to wear safety glasses.” Pointing out unsafe behavior should be viewed as looking out for one another’s best interest.
In summary, employees trust organizations with strong safety cultures because they know that their wellbeing will never be compromised. Those at the top of these organizations understand that promoting safety is not only the ethical thing to do, but also the best business practice. Although many occupations require potentially hazardous work, nobody should work for an organization that fails to implement the best safety practices. If employees find themselves in an unsafe environment, they should be encouraged to report their concerns to management. One way to encourage employees to speak up is to use an ethics and compliance hotline that allows for reporters to remain anonymous. Doing so eliminates the fear of retaliation or creating uncomfortable situations between coworkers. Is safety a number one priority in your organization? Consider the numerous benefits of embracing a safety culture today.