What Does Workplace Safety Culture Look Like?
Safety Culture Defined
Some organizations’ commitment to workplace safety looks something like this: Leadership uncovers hazards and identifies protective measures. They put those protective measures and the consequences for ignoring them in writing, share them with employees, and move to the next initiative. If that sounds like your organization, keep reading.
Policies and procedures should absolutely be part of your safety program. But genuine efforts to protect employees must be built on more than ivory tower decrees like “employees shall” and “up to and including termination.” Workplace safety resonates when it becomes embedded in an organization’s culture.
Think of workplace safety culture as the things employees do, and don’t do, when nobody’s watching.
Imagine a food service employee—we’ll call him John—who works for Risk Management ISD. John needs a can of pasta sauce from the top shelf of a storage rack. The kitchen ladder’s missing.
With the lunch bell just 15 minutes away, John has two options:
- Stand on a rolling chair to get the pasta sauce.
- Take time to get a ladder from the maintenance shop.
Safety Culture Hallmarks
In an organization that has a poor culture of workplace safety, John probably stands on the chair and risks a serious fall. That’s not Risk Management ISD.
Let’s consider how our hypothetical district’s culture would influence our hypothetical food service employee’s decision.
The Safety Plan is Committed to Writing
The Risk Management ISD accident prevention plan (APP) provides a roadmap for proactively addressing workplace hazards that cause injuries.
As a 20-year district employee, John knows the APP well. He also knows that using anything as a substitute for a proper ladder violates best practices.
When processes, equipment, and personnel change, so do workplace hazards. Risk Management ISD reviews the APP at least once each year to ensure it meets the district’s evolving needs.
Employees are Trained Year-Round
Every year in August, district employees across Texas ease back into the school year with in-service programming. We hope workplace safety training earns a spot on your agenda. We also hope it’s not a one-and-done endeavor.
During last year’s in-service program, John learned that slips, trips, and falls account for about 35 percent of workplace injuries that cause education sector employees to miss time from work. The Risk Management ISD safety coordinator explained that too often, the root cause lies in employees choosing chairs and other ladder substitutes.
Staff from every department learned how to inspect, set up, and use ladders during in-service training. John’s supervisor refreshed the training throughout the year. The team used this InsideRM article and this Fund Safety Kit (login required) as training guides.
Year-round training keeps safety top of mind. It also sends a strong message about leadership’s commitment to employee well-being.
Safety is Personal
An investment in workplace safety can drive productivity and cut operating costs. But at Risk Management ISD, safety resonates beyond budget season. Employees understand that on-the-job injuries can impact their lives outside of work.
John and his teenage son are training together for their first marathon. Crossing the finish line will be awesome. Still, nothing tops the fulfillment the pair gets from spending time together.
The Risk Management ISD team won’t let on-the-job injuries compromise their quality of life. For them, safety is personal.
Employees are Engaged in the Program
If you want to build a culture of workplace safety, employees have to feel a sense of ownership in the process. Here’s how Risk Management ISD promotes employee engagement:
- Safety performance is part of every employee’s evaluation.
- John’s supervisor shares the district’s safety goals and explains his role in achieving them.
- Employees from all levels are invited to serve on the safety committee. As a food service representative on the committee, John helps evaluate the APP, inspect worksites, investigate accidents, and recommend corrective actions.
- All employees feel empowered and safe to report hazards and suggest corrective actions.
- Leaders use employee feedback to continuously improve the safety program.
Safety won’t thrive as an every-person-for-themselves initiative. Risk Management ISD makes it clear employees are responsible for their own safety and their co-workers’ safety.
During a recent morning safety huddle, the Risk Management ISD transportation director ran an extension cord across a walkway. A member of his team reminded him to tape the cord down so nobody would trip over it.
At Risk Management ISD, it doesn’t matter where your name resides on the org chart. Your co-workers have your back, and they’ll hold you accountable.
Leading Indicators Matter
At least once each quarter, Risk Management ISD reviews its Fund online loss history reports. The reports are available on each member's unique dashboard. By digging into past claim causes, payments, and other details, the district identifies worksites, job classifications, and other aspects of the safety program that need attention.
If the Risk Management ISD exclusively looked backward, however, it could miss improvement opportunities. That’s why administrators also monitor leading safety indicators.
Leading indicators include proactive activities and behaviors that prevent accidents. Safety meeting attendance and participation are powerful leading indicators. So are the number of worksite inspections completed, hazards identified, and improvement suggestions submitted by staff.
Tying Safety Culture Together
Training, engagement, accountability, and metrics are the fuel that drives strong safety cultures in the workplace. Tying them together is a simple, powerful principle: Safety should be a value, not a priority.
That might sound contrary to everything you’re reading in this article, but consider this.
During the hustle and bustle of a busy day, priorities shift. Values never waver:
- In a values-based culture, employees choose the safe route even if it means the job takes longer.
- They watch each other’s backs, regardless of title and salary.
- And they make time to get a proper ladder and retrieve the pasta sauce off the top shelf—even with hundreds of hungry teenagers set to descend on the cafeteria.
Let us Support You
Fund members working to make safety a value or implement an accident prevention plan should contact their risk solutions consultant for expert support. We also encourage you to ask your consultant about our popular supervising for safety course. The course gives your front-line leaders the tools they need to guide their teams toward safer, more productive workplaces.
David Wylie serves as content developer on the risk solutions team. He brings more than 20 years' experience writing educational content that helps employers protect against workplace accidents, property damage, cybercrime, and other losses.