Safety Culture Can’t Be “Fixed”

Companies need to realize that a strong safety culture requires an ongoing commitment, and is not one of those things that get “fixed.”


Recently we had a client decide to terminate a safety achievement program that we had designed and managed for them. Their program was built on monthly meetings in which the workforce was engaged. They were thanked for their contributions and suggestions, and recognized for both team and department accomplishments. Every meeting featured the workers as active participants; applauding and supporting each other’s efforts to establish a safe and injury-free workplace.


In this case, the company’s injury record had gone down dramatically in the two years that the program was in place, with 75% fewer claims than prior to the program. Based on that, management decided that the program had done its job, and was no longer needed. A stronger safety culture had now been established.


Really? Actually, there are several problems with that. Safety culture – the reason for most injuries- can never be established as a permanent value; not without constant involvement and engagement. It requires a commitment on everyone’s part –especially management- to the belief that safety is the highest priority in the company. Productivity is important, but it doesn’t outrank the personal safety of every individual who works for the company.


By minimizing engagement, this employer sends exactly the wrong message. When people participate in something, it becomes more personal, and when people view safety in a personal light, they are more likely to take personal responsibility for their behavior. When that happens they are less likely to take unnecessary risks and chances, and less likely to knowingly file a fraudulent claim. Ultimately, it’s the attitude that the workers have towards safety that determines the company’s safety record. When this company chose to have less engagement, the signal they sent to their workers was that safety is now less important than it was.

The lesson here is a simple one: the commitment to building a strong culture of safety needs to be genuine, and ongoing. To have minimal injuries, safety needs to be embraced as a core value of the organization, with time, energy and resources devoted to its promotion. Engaging and celebrating the people who do their jobs the right way provides an important component of a strong safety culture.

Get Involved, Senior Managers!

What role does senior management play in driving safety culture in your organization? That is, beyond making the statement: “Safety is number 1 around here!”?

I think the potential for senior management to contribute is overlooked. There are at least three distinct areas in which senior managers can positively impact the safety culture of their organization.

1. Attend safety meetings

Your attendance indicates the importance of safety. Everyone respects the fact that senior managers are not expected to attend safety meetings, but when they do, it sends a message on how high a priority safety is in this company.

2. Walk the company

Whatever the business is, walk the company looking specifically for safety hazards, or practices that might lead to an injury. It’s management by walking around, but more specifically, to promote the importance of safety. Now when you make the statement that safety is number 1, you have credibility, because you have illustrated its importance to you.

3. Call it a core value

Make your commitment to safety and put it in writing. Indicate that safety is a core value of your company. Prominently display signs or plaques to that effect, included in newsletters, put it on printed materials where you can, and believe in it. Once you start calling safety a core value and follow through in writing, you don’t have much choice but to make it a priority and a core value.

It is often the lack of commitment, or involvement, on the part of senior management that undermines the otherwise effective message that human resource managers, safety managers, and supervisors are trying to deliver. That changes dramatically when their messages are backed up by managers who not only say safety is number 1, but demonstrate it with their actions, attendance, and commitment. There is no question that involvement in the part of senior management influences the attitude that workers have towards safety. Safety culture is often a reflection of how much the workforce believes in the company’s dedication to safety. Senior managers, it’s up to you!

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Safety Training is Overrated

Before I get pummeled by every safety manager, trainer, and supervisor, let me explain why safety training is overrated. It is not because safety training isn’t important, it’s precisely because it is so important that it needs to change.


In virtually every company we work with, safety training is provided on a regular basis. Often it is scheduled months or even a year in advance. Training courses are developed, and materials provided. Knowledgeable people go through the course material, sometimes with recommended hands-on applications to ensure that the trainees are following and understand how to apply the training. But then what happens? Generally, what happens is that the next month a different topic is covered, and no matter how professionally and well done, it is not as effective as it could be. Let me repeat that: no matter how well done the training is it is not as effective as it could be.


The missing ingredient, in the vast majority of cases, is follow-up. Think of anything you deal with in life to confirm this. When there is no follow-up, or follow through, what you have been told or learned fades from memory. What makes training more effective, and enhances learning, is thorough follow up. The most effective training I have seen is delivered in two parts. The first part is comprehensive training that engages workers and involves hands-on demonstrations with as many people as is feasible. The next month, instead of moving on to the next topic, a review of the previous months training is conducted. This time there is more hands-on, more engagement, and quizzes to make sure that everyone understands the topic. The quizzes should be short, specific, and on point for the business. They should not be generic quizzes that are developed to cover a broad range of industries.


One of the benefits of conducting training in this way is the increased effectiveness of the initial training. Because trainees know that the following month they will be engaged and tested on what they have learned in this training, they tend to pay closer attention, and after the training, to inquire if they don’t fully understand something that was covered. That level of interest is difficult to achieve if the trainees know that the training is one and done.


So if a company provides training every month, instead of 12 monthly topics, instead, only six will be covered in a year. The value of six very effective trainings far outweighs the value of 12 topics where attention is limited, and application is lacking. Safety training is too important to rely one session with no follow, no matter how excellent the initial training is. To get full value, follow-up and follow through.


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