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VERTEX, Insurance Carriers & TPA ServicesWhat is a Safety Culture?

Wikipedia, the “authority” on all topics, defines Safety Culture as “…the attitude, beliefs, perceptions and values that employees share in relation to safety in the workplace.” I have defined Safety Culture as “what people do in their workplace when you’re not watching them.” What people do is often determined by: their education, what they have observed a senior level person do in their past experience, and pressures in their daily operation, which can be multifaceted.

Companies with a strong safety culture can not only be expected to have fewer incidents, but by being more attentive to safety, they are usually more efficient, perform with higher quality, and are usually considered a better place in which to work by their own employees.

How is a Safety Culture created?

When we are diagnosing safety culture in an organization, we ask colleagues at various levels a number of questions, such as:

  • Do colleagues live by a H&S mission statement?
  • Do less experienced colleagues feel mentored by senior level colleagues?
  • Does the organization encourage reporting of near misses?
  • Does the organization investigate the causes of incidents and near misses?
  • Are the lessons learned from investigations shared among departments, and when appropriate, shared throughout the organization?
  • Do colleagues collaborate to create procedures that promote safety while performing work tasks or a procedures set solely by senior directors?
  • Is regulatory compliance considered the endpoint goal of the safety program, or is going beyond compliance to best management practices the endpoint?
  • Do colleagues perform observations of each other performing tasks and provide constructive feedback leading to continuous improvement?
  • Are safety meetings conducted on a regular schedule which encourage colleague engagement?

We could continue for quite a while asking questions, but the answers to the questions above will provide enough information for us to develop a strategy for evolving the safety culture to a higher level. Considerations we keep in mind as we proceed through the evolution include the following:

  • Schedule
  • Sense of “whelmness
  • Familiarity with employee training programs
  • Current level of regulatory compliance

Note that we have not included budget in the list above. This is because safety culture can be fit into most any budget. Naturally, allocating more money than less, will help to speed the process of developing some safety aspects that contribute ultimately to culture, but in the end, an organization can only bite off and digest cultural evolution at a particular pace, unique to that organization. That pace informs the schedule mentioned earlier. Some companies with whom I have partnered or worked within, have absorbed the aspects relatively quickly while others have taken years, but all have evolved, most with positive results within six months.

What is “Whelmness”?

“Whelmness” refers to the pace of business within the organization. Do people appear to be overwhelmed, fully whelmed, or underwhelmed? The extent of whelmness contributes to colleagues’ willingness to entertain new concepts and modify existing approaches to tasks and culture.

Introducing new concepts to evolve culture requires employee training. Sometimes, this training is conducted in a group setting; other times, it is achieved in a one-on-one approach. If a company already conducts training ranging from new employee orientation to periodic training on various technical topics, then providing education on safety culture topics from “ownership of safety” to “observations” to a “mentoring” exercises will not be a great leap. If the firm is not accustomed to employee training, then push-back may be encountered and the evolutionary process will be slower.

A company that already complies with safety regulations will be easier to move to the next level than one that is struggling simply to comply with regulations. However, regardless of the level of compliance, we will be able to tailor a strategy that will be successful at addressing both compliance and culture simultaneously by focusing on culture beyond compliance.

How can VERTEX help?

VERTEX Occupational Health & Safety Services professionals partner with you to provide you with the confidence that your organization’s safety culture will provide the same safety performance you observe when you are with your colleagues as when you leave that department to attend to other priorities to propel your company to the head of its market sector.

For more information on enhancing your company’s safety culture, please contact Philip Platcow.

Author

Philip Platcow, CIH, MS

Vice President, Health & Safety Programs