Changing the culture of any organization on any level is never easy. It requires several elements that contribute to creating and sustaining a strong culture of safety that is also sustainable. There are five ways you can create a solid foundation on which to build a safety culture in your organization. Below, we take a closer look at each of these elements and how they impact your safety culture.
1. Measurable Indicators
How you measure your safety initiatives can fundamentally change how you manage safety and how it directly contributes to the culture. In companies with strong safety cultures, safety is embedded in daily management. It is part of the fabric of daily activity. It infuses every interaction, every decision, and every behavior.
Too many organizations still measure the success of their safety goals according to the incident rate. These measures tell us how many people got hurt and how badly, but they are not measurable indicators of what you are doing to prevent accidents and incidents. So, an important step to building an effective safety culture is to change the way safety is measured.
The majority of measures should focus on proactive behaviors on the part of all employees—measures that track what people are doing to prevent accidents. When there are measures of what leaders do on a daily and weekly basis to prevent accidents, immediate and certain consequences can be developed to ensure those behaviors continue.
2. Proactive Accountability
Accountability is often synonymous with blame and negative consequences. In successful safety cultures, however, accountability has a different focus. Conventional accountability is about assigning blame. Conversely, proactive accountability acknowledges the mistake and any harm it caused but identifies changes that need to be made, and assigns responsibility for making those changes. The accountability is focused around making changes that will prevent a recurrence, not on punishing those who made the mistake.
3. Healthy Working Relationships
Great safety cultures are characterized by good relationships at all levels, which enable open, honest conversations about what is working, what is not, mistakes that have been made, and what needs to change. But workers must trust that if they tell management what is going on, that management won't overreact. This trust most likely is found in the context of good working relationships.
Positive leadership behavior, such as setting clear expectations, providing helpful feedback, and acknowledging good work, and active listening contribute to creating good relationships. Healthy relationships include accountability and constructive feedback. Positive employee-management relationships include mutual trust and respect as a foundation for a partnership around safety.
4. Discretionary Effort
Discretionary effort is extra effort that employees give at work, but are not required to. Although many people think of safety as a compliance issue, if you want to go beyond compliance and create a high-performance safety culture, discretionary effort is a requirement. Exceptional safety happens when people look for and report hazards, give peers feedback on safe and at-risk behavior, volunteer for safety committees, make suggestions for improvement and, admit when they have made mistakes so lessons can be learned.
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