The year 2000, when the term ‘safety culture’ first started to pique the interest of professionals in safety management circles. It is none other but the Chernobyl accident that is most often cited about the beginnings of safety culture. Whether a particular organization wants to reduce injury rates, save money, or increase worker productivity, it all comes back to the concept of safety culture at the workplace. It may be useful to see the problems surrounding the definition of the term and the subcultures that come under its heading. After that, what follows is an introduction to the necessary steps to develop a strong safety climate at the workplace. Establishing a strong safety culture and employee engagement go hand in hand.
Defining Safety Culture
Even though there is no one size fits all definition, the basic premise of any safety culture would be as follows. Having state-of-the-art practices and operations for industries that engage in hazardous activities. According to one popular definition, easily relatable for the layperson, safety culture would imply the behavior of workers when no one is looking. This can cover such organizational abilities as learning, monitoring, anticipating, responding, and reporting. However, there is no overarching definition. The reason for this is that there is indeed no one optimal way to develop a strong safety climate in any organization. The reality is that the uncertainties workplaces need to manage never constant. Therefore, being able to adapt to different modes of operation based on changing demands is a must. It turns out that the conditions for safety are rather dynamic. So much so that they would actually change the meaning and implications of the term depending on the context.
With that said, certain subcultures are contributing to the overall safety climate of any organization. It may be worth positioning yourself and revisiting which subculture your company subscribes to. Bear in mind that these often overlap. A flexible culture would always be ready to deal with unexpected events because it anticipates them. A reporting culture is based on employees feeling comfortable reporting errors, near-misses, or any undesirable conditions. This way, management can learn about the levels of resilience, which is crucial for any company. In an informed culture, employees of the different departments are well-trained and competent and act as part of the larger system. When a system can reconfigure itself through learning from experience, you have a learning culture. Finally, a just culture would ensure that it treats employees fairly in the event of something unsafe happening.
Steps to Take
We know that a safety culture is a dynamic concept comprising various overlapping subcultures. We can now turn to the steps that organizations can and establish a safe environment for their employees. The best approach is wanting to learn from close calls and adverse happenings in a non-punitive environment. It only makes sense that you do not punish employees when they step up and report incidents. The criteria for distinguishing between human errors and system errors should be transparent and fair. CEOs and leaders should set an example of non-intimidating behavior by having a solution-oriented and just attitude. This then should also be communicated to all employees via different channels. Once employees report about adverse events, acknowledge them and listen if they offer suggestions. Looking at the statistics is as important as dealing with individual cases. Hand out surveys to your workers and analyze the results regarding strengths and vulnerabilities in the system. Improvement of vulnerabilities should take priority over everything else. Different measures may apply in different departments resulting in unit-based safety improvements. You should integrate team training into the organizational process. In light of the dynamic nature of safety cultures, you should assess the organization’s safety culture regularly. This can take place every 18 to 24 months.
To sum up, an understanding of your company culture, in general, is necessary before you can take measures to improve it. The Key is the commitment of upper management to its employees and their safety. Efforts should be put into learning about the dominant safety culture at your company, if any. You cannot expect employee engagement without providing training and enforcing non-punitive procedures. Communicate about the measures transparently and clearly. Finally, analyzing survey data will reveal the areas in need of improvement.