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Defining a Safety Culture and Why it’s Important to Safety Leaders

The benefits of a strong safety culture include lower injury rates, higher ROI, and increased ability to retain existing staff and attract new staff. Dedication to safety and health is not only important in high hazard potential industries such as construction. Large companies such as Coca-Cola recognize that its success in the long run relies on ensuring the safety of its workers. Safety-related expenses should be deemed investments, not costs.

Creating a strong, health and safety culture takes months. The 2016 SmartMarket Report: Building A Safety Culture identifies 33 safety performance indicators and divides them into seven groups. Management commitment to safety and health is first on the list.

Leadership buy-in

Organization leaders set project priorities. Therefore, if management is committed to safety and health, more safety initiatives will be put in place. This can be seen in the proportion of resources and support allocated to health and safety programs in the organization. Building a strong culture of safety begins with having a safety director or manager, company-wide safety training, safety posters and warning signs to raise safety awareness, and protocols in place for incident reports and accident investigations.

The 2016 SmartMarket Report found that medium to large companies (50+ employees) are more likely to have a formal process for safety-related corrective action, possibly due to the more formalized procedures at larger companies. Yet, no matter the size of an organization, safety should be the first item on every meeting’s agenda. Managers should spend time where their workers are, experience it firsthand, identify problems, and get feedback directly from employees;, all of which should be taken into consideration while building out an effective safety and health program.

Organization-wide awareness

While leadership buy-in is a critical first step, a safety culture is built by joint efforts of all organization employees on a day-to-day basis. Commitment to safety and health needs to trickle down from management to every single employee, who then hold each other responsible for keeping themselves and others safe. Compared to other safety performance indicators in this category, a smaller proportion of 2016 SmartMarket Report respondents reported that their companies had a joint worker/management safety and health committee. This suggests that this practice should be considered by more firms.

To achieve organization-wide awareness of safety and health in the workplace, safety responsibilities must be clearly defined. Make sure that everyone in the organization is on board when defining goals and objectives for their safety programs. Create a process that holds everyone accountable for being visibly involved. Allow transparency and open communication to keep everyone updated on the process. Last but not least, celebrate the success of safety initiatives to keep positive momentum going for future efforts.

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