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.