Corporate Safety Culture Is Workplace Culture

Page 4 of 4

Corporate Safety Culture Is Workplace Culture

The chief job responsibilities of most safety and health practitioners—regardless of career maturity—is most likely compliance, building management systems, training and implementing programs that keep people and the work environment safe. We support this work by identifying the hazards and errors posing risks to the work system and then employing control measures to eliminate or mitigate those hazards.  

But what happens when some of those risks appear unmeasurable? How do we recommend additional programming that is often judged on perceptions, feelings or even unpopular realities to corporate leadership?  

Safety culture is a term that penetrates numerous C-Suite discussions. Some celebrate that fact, yet many are trying to determine if safety culture is the missing link to safety success. There's a reason why—a positive safety culture is hard to achieve and even harder to sustain—but it is the missing link that influences good safety performance.  

Another dilemma is whether we need to improve safety culture or organizational culture. Both are closely related. Corporate culture is defined as the moral, social and behavioral norms of an organization based on the beliefs, attitudes and perceptions of its employees. Safety culture is defined nearly the same: as an organization's underlying beliefs, truths, ideas, assumptions, values and practices demonstrated between its members. How we behave and show these attributes are mission-critical to success.  

The Link Between Safety Culture and Organizational Culture 

What is also important to understand is that safety culture is, in all reality, a subculture of organizational culture. It's simply a granular focus in one part of the overall management system, and can be stalled or elevated by corporate culture.  

The reality is that the first discussion corporate leaders should have is, “Do we have the right organizational culture that reflects how we want to protect our people, and if not, how can we improve?”  

If an organization is brave enough to answer that question, it can improve. Want to go from good to great? Support culture and develop a robust management system that embraces compliance, builds worker knowledge and capability, mentors and coaches for the desired behaviors and employs the management leadership lever to push it all forward.  

A Journey of a Thousand Miles  

Organizations desiring a better safety culture are undertaking a journey. The journey starts with a single step and is marked by milestones as the culture develops. Before even starting this journey, the first objective should be to understand the table stakes. Ask these questions of leadership: How robust is the safety management system? How effective are our safety policies? Do we ensure compliance, and are we developing people with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed?  

Since cultural development is centered around moral obligations, social norms, truth, beliefs, values and practices, it boils down to a common denominator. People matter, and they are seeking a relationship and partnership with the organization.  

When considering safety culture development, the value for worker safety must be evident. The glaring reality is that workers’ desire to partner with the organization is significantly shaped by their perceptions. Workers need to feel safe in their work environment and understand that their supervisors and senior leaders care and value them. Organizations should also be aware that with increased corporate CSR and ESG reporting, safety performance will undergo new scrutiny from the shareholders. As a result, protecting the company brand will only grow in importance, further elevating the need for cultural improvement.  

Four Key Ideas to Begin the Journey  

Set a clear safety vision and active mission. A clear safety vision and mission are often overlooked in a leader's work, but it's significant to do. Without thinking and discussing broadly, a work plan without a vision is simply a set of objectives hoping to land successfully. Leaders should assemble a cross-section of people representing all levels—from the front line to the boardroom—and discuss honestly what safety culture success looks like to the organization.  

The vision should be challenging but straightforward, easy to remember and elevate culture as a chief value. After setting the vision, develop the mission that gives more understanding and how the organization plans to get there.  

Position safety as the chief organization value. Moving vision to action is paramount in cultural development. Safety as a value should be viewed as the operational fabric of the organization, not a separate function. It should be integral to every business activity.  

In most cases, an organization should assess itself against a robust management system like ISO 45001 or ANSI Z10, but with a specific focus that asks, “How does this management gap affect the culture and our value for safety?"  

For example, having a poor machine guarding program and asking for safe behaviors without affording employees’ adequate protection is simply fruitless. A worker's perceptions are your cultural reality. Therefore, organizations must be sincere to minimize risks in the work environment.  

Adopt guiding safety principles. One of the most significant opportunities for cultural improvement is moving from a rules-based safety process to one that relies on safety principles. Not to say that the workplace doesn't need rules, but recognize that workers face an abundance of tasks every day that exist on the margins of safety rules. They must decide how best to interface with possible inherent risks of such tasks. Adopt safety principles that guide employee behaviors and actions.  

Here are three that may have merit in your organization: 

  1. Any person can and must confront unsafe behaviors and conditions. No one is authorized to disregard such a warning. 
  2. No one is expected to perform any function or accept any direction they believe is unsafe to themselves or others or creates an unsafe situation, regardless of who directs such an action. 
  3. Anyone who feels that an operation is unsafe will shut down that process and work with appropriate team members to ensure a safe situation. 

Safety principles cover a large expanse beyond rulemaking and encourage genuine employee engagement with the key intent to leverage workers to protect themselves and guard each other. For example, how will they stop work when it's viewed as hazardous, and what are the behaviors that are pivotable in those moments of decision? If done well, it demands communication, and that drives cultural improvement.  

Develop positive relationships and celebrate wins. An essential step for a leader is to develop positive relationships to ensure workers have a voice in safety. Make it easy for your workers to approach leadership with safety concerns and be ready to respond with an action that positively shows their concerns' value. Of course, active listening is not saying everyone will have a good idea or are correct in their assumption. Still, it does mean you value their words enough to listen and respond with action or comment.  

Finally, celebrate the wins. Acknowledging your safety culture journey gives credit where credit is due and recognizes achievement. Recognize people one-on-one and specifically, the whole team's actions that made the difference and the processes that contributed to reaching milestones. Don't be afraid of sharing how difficult it was to reach the goal or the hurdles along the journey, but look for the opportunity to celebrate their significant part in our winning culture. It’s partnership in action.  

Creating a workplace free of illness and injury begins with one crucial decision: Making safety a core value and making an effort to prove such value. While there are several other values by which an organization is judged, one holds sway above the rest, and that is protecting workers and ensuring they can return safely to their families at the end of every work shift. Therefore, safety should be an organization's chief value. 

This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Scott Gaddis is Vice President and Global Practice Leader, Safety and Health, at Intelex Technologies Inc. He has more than 25 years in EHS leadership experience in heavy manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and packaging. Before joining Intelex, he served as vice president, EHS for Coveris High Performance Packaging, executive director of EHS at Bristol-Myers Squibb, and global leader for Occupational Safety and Health at Kimberly-Clark Corporation.

Download Center

  • Industrial Premium Library

    Empower your workforce with the manufacturing, industrial maintenance, operations, HSE, compliance, and professional development skills they need to complete their tasks efficiently and safely. Not only will you boost productivity, reliability, skills, and morale but you’ll also onboard faster, and retain your best employees while meeting regulatory standards. Vector Solutions offers over 1,800 award-winning eLearning courses designed to keep your employees safe, transfer knowledge of fundamentals, and develop industry and job-specific skills that reduce downtime, maintenance costs and more.

  • Safety Metrics & Insights Webinar

    EHS professionals have been tackling the subject of how to best measure performance for many years. Lagging indicators like the Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) and Days Away Restricted Transfer Rate (DART) are a good place to start, but you shouldn’t forget about the leading indicators that your workforce does every day to prevent incidents from occurring. Learn about some of the most common KPIs of safety programs and how Vector EHS Management software can be used to track these metrics in this webinar.

  • Risk Matrix Guide

    Understanding the components of a risk matrix will allow you and your organization to manage risk effectively. Download this guide for details on risk matrix calculations including severity, probability, and risk assessment.

  • OSHA Recordkeeping Guide

    In case you missed it, OSHA recently initiated an enforcement program to identify employers who fail to electronically submit Form 300A recordkeeping data to the agency. When it comes to OSHA recordkeeping, there are always questions regarding the requirements and ins and outs. This guide is here to help! We’ll explain reporting, recording, and online reporting requirements in detail.

  • Safety Metrics Guide

    Is your company leveraging its safety data and analytics to maintain a safe workplace? With so much data available, where do you start? This downloadable guide will give you insight on helpful key performance indicators (KPIs) you should track for your safety program

  • Vector Solutions

Featured Whitepaper

OH&S Digital Edition

  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - September 2022

    September 2022

    Featuring:

    • ESG
      EHS Will Guide Future ESG Success for Many Organizations
    • MACHINE GUARDING
      Handling Material Handlers: Training Beyond PIT Requirements
    • EHS SOFTWARE
      The Missing Link with EHS Software
    • HEARING PROTECTION
      Noise Surveys from the Trenches
    View This Issue