Many companies are frustrated by such nagging health and safety issues as the failure of workers to consistently perform start of shift equipment inspections, wear personal protection equipment, or to report near misses.
Through training, vigilant supervision and the threat of punishment, workers typically become compliant in following procedures, but a more challenging issue is how to engage and motivate employees to move beyond minimum compliance to become relentless champions of hazard reporting, concerned mentors to peers, and valued problem solvers for the organization at large. One way to address these motivational issues is through the development of a safety culture.
An organization’s safety culture is often described in terms of its approach to safety, and as Cox and Cox suggest, embodying "the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and values that employees share in relation to safety.” There is a body of agreement that a safety culture is required, but often it seems to be based on values and beliefs, or on end results such as injury reduction targets. The missing ingredient is how to best fulfill those values and achieve targeted reductions.
As Dr. Aubrey C. Daniels and Dr. Judy Agnew point out, “Most definitions of culture are values-based and, while this is an excellent starting point, such definitions do not make clear how to make it happen. We define culture this way: Patterns of behavior (what we say and do), encouraged or discouraged, inadvertently or intentionally, by people or systems over time.”
Daniels and Agnew expand upon their definition in their belief that:
The Characteristics of a Strong Safety Culture
Daniels and Agnew go on to outline what they feel to be the characteristics of a strong safety culture. Some of those characteristics include:
Initiating Cultural Change
In order to facilitate cultural change, Daniels and Agnew present a “Working Backwards” model that starts with identifying target employee behavior on the front line, and then working back to consider what supporting behaviors by supervisors, managers and executives best promote those front line behaviors.
Workers in a positive safety culture will exhibit such behaviors as following procedures, encouraging peers to act safely, performing pre-job reviews, reporting all hazards, and providing feedback to supervisors and peers.
Supervisors support workers by mindfully reinforcing worker behaviors, proactively addressing hazards, holding safety meetings, performing safety audits, and providing feedback to others.
Managers in turn support supervisors by establishing a positive safety accountability for supervisors, starting each meeting with safety, remediating hazards as soon as possible, and prioritizing safety resources.
Top executives bolster the efforts of their direct reports by incorporating safety into the fabric of the decision making process, creating positive accountability for managers with respect to safety, creating realistic budgets to support safety initiatives, and consistently communicating safety expectations.
Daniels and Agnew believe that companies can have a much better record than simply minimum compliance with safety rules. If participants at each organizational level behave in a supportive fashion, then employees will increasingly become engaged in consistently performing the behaviors that will result in the emergence a positive safety culture and an enduringly safer workplace.