How to Sustain a Culture of Safety in an Organization

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An occupational safety professional with a tablet walks through a factory with an employee.About 100 workers died every week while on the job in 2019, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). That’s a startling wake-up call about the importance of having and sustaining a culture of safety in an organization.

A culture of safety can be defined as an organization’s attitude toward safety and the ways it communicates this attitude to employees. Though a culture of safety involves minimizing risk, it also includes the shared values and beliefs about safety that the employees of an organization have.

Occupational health and safety specialists can help organizations create and maintain a culture of safety. These professionals work tirelessly to inspect workplaces and ensure organizations follow safety regulations and minimize risk. By using skills developed through a program such as a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety (BSOS), these professionals impact organizations in ways that can prevent injury and even death.

Why Build a Culture of Safety?

Building a culture of safety is important to organizations in more ways than one. Definitely, a culture of safety can reduce the number of injuries or deaths in a workplace. However, a culture of safety can also benefit organizations in many other ways.

A culture of safety can boost morale in work environments by ensuring that employees feel confident in their safety while performing their duties. Employees who feel safe and content in their roles are more likely to stay in their current positions. By investing in a culture of safety, organizations can increase employee retention and satisfaction.

Employee absence due to injuries in the workplace may also disturb workflows and result in reduced productivity and efficiency. As such, fewer workplace incidents and accidents, high employee morale, and high employee retention can have a significantly positive impact on an organization’s profitability.

How to Build a Culture of Safety

While most organizations support building a culture of safety, they may not know how to do so. Fortunately, occupational health and safety specialists have the expertise required to implement and maintain a culture of safety in any organization. They do so in various ways and, ultimately, allow organizations to keep their employees safe from the risk of harm and unsafe work environments.

Communication

Creating a culture of safety begins with communication. Occupational health and safety specialists must make a concerted effort to encourage communication around safety before attempting to implement changes to safety protocols. They can achieve this by organizing regular safety talks in which management explains and demonstrates safe practices while also encouraging employees to ask questions, creating a discourse around safety.

Leadership

Once occupational health and safety specialists have begun a companywide discourse around safety, it’s their duty to ensure that leaders within the organization lead by example. If employees see that management and other higher-ups in an organization aren’t taking safety seriously, then they’re more likely to not take it seriously themselves.

Rewarding Safe Behavior

In addition to communication and leadership, organizations implement systems that reward employees for being safe. This may work better than a culture of fear, in which employees are punished and made an example of when they fail to follow safe practices. Rather than giving safety a negative connotation, providing rewards and praise to employees who point out safety concerns can give employees a positive view of safe practices.

Developing a Strong Safety Training Program

One of the most important ways that occupational health and safety specialists can help organizations create a culture of safety is by developing a strong safety training program. Safety training programs should be detailed, thorough, and informative, leaving employees with a comprehensive understanding of safe practices in the workplace.

This aspect of creating a culture of safety may require occupational health and safety specialists to utilize their soft skills of communication. Even if a safety program outlines safe practices, it won’t be effective if employees aren’t understanding or retain any of the information. As such, a strong safety training program will require occupational health and safety specialists to communicate clearly and leave employees with a clear understanding of safe practices.

Ensuring That Practices Meet OSHA’s Guidelines

Organizations intent on creating and maintaining a culture of safety will need to meet OSHA’s recommended practices. These include seven core elements:

  • Management leadership
  • Worker participation
  • Hazard identification and assessment
  • Hazard prevention and control
  • Education and training
  • Program evaluation and improvement
  • Communication and coordination

 

Occupational health and safety specialists have the expertise and experience necessary to help organizations ensure that they’re fulfilling these recommendations and effectively maintaining a culture of safety.

The Look of a Culture of Safety

A culture of safety will look different depending on the organization and the industry.

Some industries in particular have more difficult hurdles to overcome than others. Specifically, construction and health care involve hazards that are by-products of their industry.

Construction can come in many forms, but it often involves heavy machinery, harmful chemicals, and chaotic job sites. In the construction industry, a culture of safety is paramount because injuries sustained in this type of environment could easily result in permanent injury or even death. Health and safety specialists with expertise in the construction industry can help develop a culture of safety in construction environments by communicating with and training workers in safe practices.

In the construction industry, a culture of safety will involve numerous traits and practices. One important trait is a shared mission among all employees. While the role of the occupational health and safety specialist is important in construction, a true culture of safety will involve all employees on a job site or in a work environment actively seeking to keep their work environments safe.

In addition, a culture of safety in the construction industry will involve protocols that every employee understands clearly. This means that in the event that an injury or incident takes place, everyone will know exactly what to do and how to respond to the situation.

Safe practices in a health care environment can range from wearing masks and other protective gear to observing safety precautions, such as double-checking proper dosage when administering medication. Though occupational health and safety specialists with a concentration in the health care industry can make a significant impact, a true culture of safety involves participation from all employees.

An industry-specific approach that health care organizations have developed in an attempt to develop a culture of safety is “just culture.” The just culture approach stems from the dilemma that health care organizations face with regard to blame. These organizations have found that a no-blame protocol, in which organizations attempt to reward good safety behavior rather than punish employees for bad safety behavior, can actually help increase safety in the work environment, though some errors seem to justify punishment.

A happy medium between no-blame protocols and fair instances of punishment is that of just culture, which helps organizations strike the right balance between encouraging employees to be safe while identifying and correcting wrong behaviors.

One practice that is an important part of a culture of safety in any industry is that of constantly improving and updating safety practices. By continuously improving practices, organizations ensure that they’re developing strong cultures of safety that can evolve and continue to be effective.

Learn the Skills of Trusted Leadership

Developing a culture of safety in the workplace not only improves morale but also saves lives. Occupational health and safety specialists utilize their expertise to aid organizations in creating a culture of safety and instilling a common goal of safety in every single employee.

Eastern Kentucky University’s online BSOS can equip you with the skills and expertise to become a trusted leader at the vanguard of a culture of safety in your industry. In EKU’s online BSOS program, you’ll learn how to identify potential hazards in the workplace and implement measures to keep employees safe from harm.

Learn more about the benefits of earning a bachelor’s degree in occupational safety and start your journey to helping organizations build a culture of safety today.

Recommended Readings

Optimize Your Degree With a Safety Internship

8 Environmental Health and Safety Careers You Should Consider

How to Conduct a Job Hazard Analysis

Sources:

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Culture of Safety

American Society of Safety Professionals, “5 Reasons Improving Safety Culture Is a Business Skill”

Construction Executive, Create a Culture of Safety Within a Construction Company

EcoOnline, “5 Steps to Change Safety Culture in Your Organization

ECRI, “Culture of Safety: An Overview”

Indeed, Culture of Safety in the Workplace: Definition and Traits

Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Develop a Culture of Safety

LinkedIn, “Challenges to Building a Safety Culture in the Construction Industry”

Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Commonly Used Statistics

Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA Worker Rights and Protections

Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians