Safe Workplaces Start with Implementing a “Safety Culture”

December 23, 2019

Worker commitment to safety is proportional to the degree of management understanding, involvement and communication.

If your safety program is based solely on reducing reported accidents and injuries or compliance with OSHA regulations, your safety and loss control program will never be completely successful. You’ll only be applying your controls to the tip of the iceberg, while major hazards will easily go unchecked. 

Create a safety culture

Most accidents stem from some type of unsafe workplace behavior: whether it’s inattention, improper posture or a poor understanding of how to effectively use safety equipment. Compliance with regulatory requirements alone seldom makes a real dent in your safety record.

For example, if you pattern a safety program on OSHA safety and reporting requirements alone, using them as a benchmark to discipline workers who violate them, your safety program will be only tenuously related to safe workplace behaviors and ineffective at reducing accident levels.

By creating a “safety culture” that tackles the attitudes, however, you can work to change beliefs and values that govern behaviors related to safety — such as what motivates employees to be safe. This is the path to increasing safer behaviors overall.

But creating a corporate safety culture means investing resources, time and personnel into a vigorous occupational health and safety program that wins cooperation at all levels of the company.

You will be looking at employee motivation, asking questions such as: what do workers get from an investment in safety? What needs do unsafe behaviors serve? Do employees feel responsible for what happens at work? Do they take too many risks — especially in response to management requests for speedier production or to make up for being understaffed? Does the company send conflicting signals by rewarding unsafe behaviors when they raise production and punishing them when they cause injury?

Persuasion vs. Punishment

Experts say that worker involvement in safety is proportional to the degree of management understanding, involvement and communication. In fact, worker involvement is as critical to your workplace safety program as it is to the production process itself. Without a genuine interest in working safely, developing safety manuals and conducting training sessions and videos will have very little effect on employee work methods. Merely paying lip-service to safety via slogans, posters and dry safety meetings that don’t generate actual improvements in working conditions reveal a lack of understanding and no real commitment to safety.

Simply punishing unsafe behaviors won’t work either. For one thing, the punishments may backfire, leading workers to continue their unsafe behavior while working harder to hide it from supervisors. Punishment can also give rise to frustration and aggression, leading employees who’ve been punished to reduce output, do substandard work, become careless with products and materials or initiate conflicts with coworkers and supervisors. Increasing rewards and positive reinforcement for safe behavior can help your safety program achieve the results you want.

For help creating an effective safety culture, please contact us.