How to Implement a Safety Culture in Your Organization

It goes without saying, safety belongs at the top of any organization's priorities, but reaching that objective is a challenge. Organizations face a variety of obstacles when trying to keep their facilities and employees safe including lack of training, changing conditions in the workplace, ineffective communication, and cultural inertia.

To move an organization from safety-maybe to safety-first, managers must fundamentally shift the behaviors, beliefs, and values – a.k.a. "culture" – that underpin and drive the organization. Here are several factors to consider when embarking on an effort to implement a culture of safety:

1. Leadership Must Lead
Cultural change always starts at the top. If employees perceive indifference to safety among the leadership team, they will adopt the very same attitude. Conversely, if leaders talk about safety everywhere from formal meetings to water cooler conversations, and perhaps more importantly, if they walk their talk by following safety procedures and leading the charge to implement better ones, employees will take safety seriously and actively contribute to improving it.

2. Document Procedures
To keep everyone in an organization on the same page, safety procedures must be clearly and thoroughly documented. This is especially critical for emergency response issues, when uncertainty and confusion are likely to have serious or even disastrous consequences. Documentation is not a one-and-done exercise, either; procedures must be reviewed, improved, and updated regularly.

3. Effectively Communicate Procedures
To be sure, documentation is a necessary step, but to influence the culture of an organization, safety procedures must be communicated effectively. For instance, static text posters on walls lack the impact of large digital screens that can convey emergency procedures and real-time updates through a combination of video, audio, graphical, and text-based content. Digital communication, centrally controlled through a multi-device network, ensures key safety information is communicated consistently to employees in a way that will be remembered and respected. It also facilitates real-time communication, which is essential for emergency response.

4. Train, Train, Train
Effective communication is a must, but as noted in the discussion of leadership, actions speak louder than words. Ongoing training and drills for employees help them internalize behaviors and attitudes like nothing else — and those are the things that must change to create a new culture. Practice leads to successful outcomes.

5. Establish Accountability
A safety strategy and system must have a clear leader and team accountable for results. If safety is no one's responsibility in particular, it will fall to the bottom of the priority list for everyone. To make the safety team accountable, the organization must establish and report on metrics that define success: accident-free days, days missed due to injury, insurance costs, etc.

6. Reward Success
There's a lot of truth in the adage "people do what you pay them to do, not what you tell them to do." To cover every base when moving to a culture of safety, include a reward program that provides meaningful incentives to individuals and work teams when success is achieved. Bonuses, additional days off, celebratory events, and other incentives keep safety top of mind — day in and day out.

Safety Never Sleeps
Careful readers will notice that safety was described as a system rather than a program, department, or initiative. The latter three words suggest something with an expiration date or a life of its own. However, a safety culture can be neither of those things: In a safety culture, safety ideas and impacts are considered in every organizational program, every department, and every corporate initiative. When safety is dealt with in this way, you will know you have achieved true cultural change.

Steve Chang is Senior Vice-President of Strategy and Solutions at RMG Networks. He oversees the strategic direction and expansion of RMG's intelligent visual communications and business solutions which help organizations improve their safety culture. Visit for more information.

Posted by Steven Chang on Apr 04, 2016

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