Safety in the workplace may not be the glamorous topic, but it’s certainly an essential one: In 2011 alone, 4,609 people died from work-related injuries. That adds up to 13 people dying of on-the-job injuries every day.
The single most significant key to reducing on-the-job injuries and lowering the death rate lies in developing a culture of safety in the workplace. Developing a strong safety culture has more impact on accident reduction that any other measure. But what is safety culture, and how can workplaces develop them?
A Culture of Safety
A safety culture can be defined as a set of shared beliefs, values, attitudes and patterns of behavior that emphasize a commitment to an establishment’s safety and health priorities. A positive safety culture is characterized by open and adequate communication around safety issues, mutual trust, a shared perception that striving for safety is important and confidence in the established safety protocols.
In order to be effective, a safety culture must acknowledge a simple truth: When human beings are involved, errors and accidents are bound to happen. Instead of being reactive and waiting for mistakes to take place, a safety culture is proactive, working to anticipate and correct errors before they take place.
These characteristics are present within a safety culture:
- Employee and management buy-in to the importance of safety
- Safety takes precedence over bottom line or production issues
- Employees are adequately and regularly trained in safety procedures
- Employees go beyond their job descriptions to note and correct safety issues
Experts agree that a focus on safety starts at the top with the highest level of management. When executives, managers and supervisors make safety a core value at a company, other employees follow suit. If a leadership team demonstrates its commitment to safety at every turn, this emphasis on safety as a value will permeate through every level of the organization. Eventually, each and every employee, from the bottom of the pay scale to the top rung of the ladder, will feel personally accountable for promoting safe workplace practices.
While explicit safety training is important, part of the safety enculturation process involves showing new or younger workers the safety “ropes.” Experienced employees should take less experienced employees under their wing, keeping an eye out for their safety at all times and acting as role models by demonstrating safe practices. Conversely, new employees shouldn’t ever be afraid to confront their superiors if they notice a safety violation; in fact, this practice should be encouraged.
Clear, practical and easy to understand—these guidelines make safety rules effective. From taking steps like requiring everyone to wear protective gear at all times to using identification products to ensure each piece of equipment if properly labeled, a safe culture requires practical steps. A top-down system of training, implementation, enculturation and standardization can help ensure that your workplace is injury-free.