IS & Ex

Three key principles to build a strong safety culture

January 2022 IS & Ex

According to a Fluke survey, many companies do not have a strong culture of safety. To build it, one first needs to create a climate of safety that allows for adaptation and change. This then influences the culture of safety, which is harder to change because it is ingrained into the overarching company culture. If you want to change a company’s culture of safety, you need to start with the climate of safety. Over the years, the strong climate will create a strong culture.

Safety culture expert at Predictive Solutions, an Industrial Scientific Company, Dr Chuck Pettinger has seen three key changes help in creating a successful climate of safety that will grow into a successful culture of safety:

1. Communication.

2. Make it personal.

3. Keep building.

1. Communicate

Part of any successful business is how we communicate with one another. When looking at a climate of safety communication, it can include things like goal setting and incentive programs. Pettinger suggests instead of tracking metrics based on accidents and injuries, focus on the positive. Focusing on accidents and injuries drives a lot of safety reporting underground, which may unintentionally hurt the culture. Instead, try focusing on tracking the quality of the safety inspections, or how many employees participate in a safety initiative. In general, people are more motivated when they are trying to improve something, rather than trying to avoid or reduce something (e.g., injuries).

Instead, focus on setting goals that are more useful and create a positive effect on the company’s climate of safety. Pettinger explains: “[The goal] should be an actionable, observable behaviour that you're reinforcing. So, make it specific. Make it achievable. Make it relevant to the people around you and not just important to you. And visualise it, get people to appreciate it.”

Make it personal

Creating a plan that makes safety about the individual helps keep it top of mind throughout the workday. Pettinger has seen success in changing how shift meetings are conducted and tailoring the training to suit.

Getting employees more involved in shift meetings has had a positive effect for many companies. Instead of just focusing on what needs to get done and where the previous shift left things, Pettinger suggests taking the time during each meeting to discuss potential risks and how to mitigate them. “Elicit those responses from the people in your group,” he adds. “As a good manager, trying to get them to come up with the solution is the key.”

When it comes to training and teaching there are multiple different approaches. A Fluke customer, Michael Brooks, has seen success with one-on-one training at his company, Great Southwestern Fire and Safety. Taking the time to walk through the safety steps and ensure that the knowledge and experience one employee has is translated to the next. “What they've learned, they've been able to translate that to somebody new,” he explains It's not just the same people teaching and learning and growing all the time. We've worked hard to try to keep this positive attitude amongst our workers. This has not only helped to keep employees safe but has helped the company grow over the years.

3. Keep building

Many companies fall into what is called the ‘venomous cycle’. In this cycle, new initiatives start out strong, but eventually lose the momentum and after a while get ignored completely. Then, another new initiative is started and the cycle repeats. However, no real change is seen from these initiatives and both the climate and culture of safety remain the same.

Instead, companies need to find a way to get into the ‘virtuous cycle’. This is all about patience and perseverance. “Culture is something that's very hard to impact,” concludes Pettinger. “It's something that takes three to five to 10 years to change sometimes.

“Once a new initiative is started, set short-term goals so it feels like progress is being made. Not only will individual employees feel like they’re able to make more of an impact, but management can also track what changes have started to happen. Once people see the value of the new process, it will become self-sustaining, ingrained and help your organisation create a culture of safety.”

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