Culture is more than a document collecting dust or a regular event in the calendar when you shout your team a box of doughnuts. It’s the way your company lives and breathes, turning business vision and goals into daily decision making. Whether intentional or unintentional, your culture creates workspaces that are either inclusive or exclusive, empowering or oppressing, innovative or by the book.
When it comes to health and safety, culture is also what helps keep your employees safe and helps fulfil your legal obligations as an employer. Broadly speaking:
“Safety culture can be understood as the aspects or parts of the organisational culture that influence attitudes and behaviors, which have an impact on the level of safety in the organisation.” — Nielsen
Building a safety culture goes deeper than a mere set of rules. It involves changing attitudes, creating new processes and cultivating safer behaviours. Ultimately, a positive safety culture encourages compliance to safety policies and creates an environment of accountability that, in the long run, will keep your business running smoothly. After all, everyone works together better when they’re on the same page.
The question is, where do you begin? We’ve gathered simple and effective ways you can shift the safety culture within your organisation, to create tangible benefits for your company and your employees.
How to improve safety culture in the workplace through simple and effective changes
Start on a team basis
When you’re faced with hundreds of employees, shifting the culture of safety can seem like an overwhelming task. Starting on a team basis is one of the best ways to create actionable change. Often a blanket approach won’t cut it, when it comes to the unique needs and habits of different departments. Explore how you can align safety principles with the daily goals and frustrations a specific department faces.
Implement a rewards system that incentivises positive behaviour
Negative perceptions and confusing procedures are all barriers to a positive workplace safety culture. Defining and incentivising safer attitudes and behaviours is a simple systemic change you can make, in order to create a cultural shift. Whether it’s a shout out during a meeting to team members who are proactive with safety training or a free double pass to the movies for employee of the month, there are many effective and affordable options to choose from.
Lead by example
‘Lead by example’ is a phrase thrown around often in leadership training, yet it’s a goldmine of valuable wisdom. Whether intentional or unintentional, people take cues of what is and what is not acceptable behaviour from their supervisors — so bringing bosses onboard is an essential for success. Providing safety training is applicable to all levels of your organisation, including management.
Simplify the reporting process
We’re all time poor these days, so piling on more admin tasks through convoluted reporting processes is counterintuitive. A long and difficult reporting process can become a barrier to safety accountability, because people are discouraged from reporting potential risks and incidents.
Simplifying the reporting process is one of the best ways to incentivise safety accountability — and ensure fewer risks ever snowball into dangerous situations.
Structure a system that identifies the near misses
An effective reporting system is crucial when establishing how to improve safety culture in the workplace. However, too many companies only focus on reporting incidents. The most effective systems aim to document both the incidents and the near misses. With the benefit of clear data, key leaders within the organisation can identify patterns of near misses, establish when and where incidents are most likely to occur, and make informed decisions around preventive measures.
Communicate regularly that reporting is not a punitive system, it’s preventive
Often common misconceptions are the greatest challenges to building a safety culture, in particular the assumption that reporting is a punitive system. Fear of harsh punishment is the opposite of an empowering culture, and is more likely to discourage honest, effective and timely reporting. For example, employees may fear reporting regular instances of near misses, for fear it will reflect poorly on their performance, even when the risk is more likely attributed to other factors.
Examining these near misses provides a learning opportunity, for creating better and safer processes. Ensure your team understands the preventive, and not punitive, purpose behind your reporting system.
Equip employees with know-how around risk mitigation
Preventing risks from snowballing calls for all hands on deck — so equipping your employees with essential safety know-how is a first priority.
Often the most problematic and pervasive issues can go undetected for far too long, because employees might not know what to look out for. Appropriate training measures around issues such as drug and alcohol awareness can mean employees are able to minimise the associated risks of misuse among colleagues, maintain company principles through understanding what behaviour is appropriate and even use safe and healthy strategies for dealing with personal stress and other contributory factors
Crucial information on risk identification and mitigation empowers your team to pioneer a safer workplace from the ground up.
Identify your safety advocates from all over
Getting everyone on the same page with safety best practice is an essential first step. However, ensuring your team are proactive in putting knowledge into action is what makes culture a living, breathing and dynamic aspect of your company. Safety culture is lived out through daily decision making.
Identifying and engaging with proactive employees will help you to make tangible change in your safety culture. The secret to making safer practices an instinct is through shifting what could be a discussion with management, so that it becomes an open discussion amongst colleagues.
Over to you
Building and shifting a workplace safety culture is no easy feat, though it is worth the long term investment for your business. A proactive safety culture needs employees to identify risks before they become problems, so that’s why training is an essential component in a strong safety culture.
With alcohol and drug related violence a forefront issue for the millennial workforce, we’ve created a Ready-to-Go learning module, called Drugs And Alcohol Awareness, to equip your employees. This will get your team up to speed with all the health and safety essentials, for a stronger and safer workplace.