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Leadership and Creating a Strong Safety Culture

The last two years have been challenging, to say the least, but as our economy continues to stabilize, we are already seeing hiring pressures mount throughout industry. With an increase in hiring comes the potential for an increase in workplace injuries. As we launch into 2022, there is no better time than now for business leaders to focus on systematic accident prevention by adopting a strong and proactive safety culture and beginning a transformation to a culture where everyone believes that all injuries can be prevented. Before you dismiss this belief as impossible, stop and think about all the employees who have been injured, disabled, or killed at work each year. The reality is that an overwhelming majority of injuries are preventable, yet we often rationalize workplace injuries as a cost of doing business. Many companies have enjoyed notable success in creating strong and proactive safety cultures, and a common trait among these companies with outstanding safety performance is a belief that all injuries and fatalities can be eliminated.

So, what is required to make this belief a reality? This transformation begins with leadership. John Maxwell (#1 New York Times bestselling author, coach, and speaker) often says that everything rises and falls on leadership. It requires resolve on the part of leaders to change the prevailing attitude that rationalizes workplace injuries as a cost of doing business to a culture that changes the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of everyone. What management does, rather than what management says, defines the actuality of commitment or noncommitment to safety.

There are many elements and details that go into creating a culture. However, a critical element in developing and maintaining a culture that supports safety and accident prevention is communication. Communicating is essential to creating conditions that support high levels of effectiveness. Communication is also the key to developing healthy internal competition and productive conflict. Everyone needs to know what’s expected of them, their degree of responsibility and authority, the results (good and bad) of their actions, and how they are doing. The only way to satisfy these needs is to communicate effectively.

  1. What measures of safety performance are you using and are they effective and reliable?
  2. What safety performance goals have you set and are they realistic and measurable? Employees want to know where they are going, and they will follow those who know where they are going.
  3. How and how often do you provide on-going feedback to employees and management about safety performance? It’s not just the results that count, it’s your employee’s awareness of the results.

Transforming the safety culture is not an easy or an overnight fix. Recognize that this is a process, much like training for and running a marathon. You have heard of the saying, Beginners are many; finishers are few. Understand that employee skepticism will run high if there is a history of initiating and then quickly abandoning a “fad of the month” safety initiative. So, it is important to have a well-thought-out process of how to communicate the company’s commitment, obtain employee engagement, and then implement the framework to reinforce and sustain the process. Here are a few but not exhaustive tips:

  • Develop a site safety vision, including key policies, goals, measures, and strategic and operational plans.
  • Implement a process that holds management accountable for visibly being involved, setting the proper example, and leading a positive change for safety and health.
  • Require leaders to make themselves available during employee orientation and introduction sessions.
  • Encourage all employees to watch out for others. In doing so, develop safety responsibilities for all levels of the company.
  • Consistently and frequently, make health and safety a part of workplace communications.
  • Encourage workers to report health and safety concerns that they encounter and respond to their concerns in a timely fashion. Also, provide multiple paths for employees to bring suggestions, concerns, and problems forward.
  • Develop a system for tracking and ensuring the timeliness of hazard corrections. Be sure to communicate this to employees.
  • Promote safety training sessions and host emergency response training.
  • Maintain safety equipment and ensure that it is worn properly by employees.

It starts with leadership, and leadership is being able to rally people to a better future. Have you envisioned what your future looks like with respect to preventing workplace injuries? Take a moment to think about what you are willing to do that helps make your workplace accident free. Your safety culture reflects your company’s overarching culture and the employees who work in it. As a result, most employees will make up their own perceptions of workplace safety and its importance based on the attitudes and behaviors of their leaders. So, what does your safety culture look like? But more importantly, what could it look like?

About the Author

Michael Whitson
Michael Whitson

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