It’s one of those terms that gets thrown out constantly without much thought to what the phrase really means.
The list of actions and campaigns a company can take to improve safety culture could go on for days. But if we were to take a few minutes to really boil it down to the the essentials of a positive safety culture, you would find that idea is very simple.
It’s more about how you do what you do, than what you do.
Culture is a broad term for all the ideas, habits, customs and social behaviors of a society.
Think of your work place like its own society. There are patterns that people engage in every day. In some cultures, those patterns are formed around a shared goal and vision. In others, the patterns may look more like daily complaints formed around the break room coffee pot.
Which end of the spectrum does your workplace fall into?
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Which culture would you rather work in?
Working in a positive safety culture is better for your happiness and health than a negative safety culture. Yet, it can be a tricky mindset to change if you don’t understand what safety culture all about.
Luckily, there are a few simple essentials that when understood and practiced, can make all the difference.
“Safety is not a gadget, but a state of mind.” – Eleanor Everet
To begin, imagine that when you walk in to your workplace every morning, there is a large sign hanging above the door that says, “36 Days Worked without a Lost-Time Injury.”
Your company measures safety in terms of accidents and injuries. How does that make you think about safety?
The issue with this approach, is that it focuses solely on avoiding negative outcomes.
Now, imagine walking into your job every morning under has a sign which says, “36 Safety Improvements Made Year to Date.”
This company appears to focus on continuous improvement.
The difference may seem insignificant at first, but the impacts are huge. The first company, just wants to avoid something bad happening.
The second, is actively engaged in improving their current state. While the first company tries to maintain the status quo, the second is growing and progressing.
Safety can easily become a topic where all the focus becomes avoiding negative outcomes like accidents and injuries. But if that’s where a company focuses their energy, they will only avoid problems and never go the distance to achieve a world-class safety culture.
Focusing on taking positive actions changes the mindset of an organization from avoidance of harm to seeking improvements.
It’s the difference between getting in your car and hoping to avoid collisions when you could be getting in your car, securing your seatbelt, observing conditions and ensuring your mirrors are adjusted before leaving the driveway.
Next, imagine you are at work, about to start the day’s tasks. The company policy states it’s mandatory to complete a job hazard analysis before starting work.
Your colleague isn’t happy about this step. He complains about what a waste of time the paper work is, how you could already be halfway through the job if it weren’t for this policy and then he quickly completes the job hazard analysis without much thought or attention to the actual hazards present.
Now, imagine you are in the same scenario. Only this time your colleague says nothing about his opinion of the policy and instead takes the job hazard analysis form and goes into the work area, surveying the day’s conditions, making notes on observed hazards and organizing equipment for hazard mitigation. He completes the form with you and together, you begin your tasks.
Can you imagine the difference in mindset going in to this job? On both occasions, the job hazard analysis was completed. But in the first, your colleague was exhibiting behaviors of a negative culture. In the second, your colleague exhibited behaviors of a positive safety culture.
Which scenario would make for a better workday?
Which scenario is more likely to lead to a productive job task completion?
In both examples, the employees filled out the form and adhered to the policy. But it was how they did it that made a difference.
It’s how you do things that creates a safety culture.
Let’s imagine that during the workday, there was an incident on your job that caused some equipment damage. A ladder fell onto an adjacent wall, resulting a broken face of an electrical panel. A group of supervisors and the Safety Manager arrive and start an investigation.
The group ask lots of questions. They request to see your job hazard analysis from earlier in the day and pick it apart piece by piece, saying you could have and should have done things differently.
You feel uncomfortable. You feel like you’re defending your job and consider requesting a Shop Steward be present.
Now, imagine the same group comes in, but this time things are different. They may ask the exact same questions but their responses are completely different. They are curious, ask for your opinion, and focus on how to prevent the same type of incident from happening in the future. At the end of the investigation, you feel like you learned something and the supervisors present are supportive of your suggestions.
See the difference? The first investigation focused on fault-finding. In the second, the investigation focused on fact-finding.
Which group is reinforcing a positive safety culture?
Which group is more likely to prevent future incidents?
In almost all circumstances in the workplace, a mishap can teach us something new. It can show a culture how to grow, adapt and improve. Even an injury can be taken as a way to learn how to better control the hazards of the workplace. The only thing needed is a mindset focused on prevention.
A company that begins the day with the mindset that they are just going to get through it and hope nothing bad happens, will likely be disappointed.
A company, crew, or individual that begins the day with the mindset that they are going to go home safely, will take the actions necessary to make sure that is what actually happens.
The basics of a positive safety culture are that simple. Focus on improvement, how you do what you do, and always learn from incidents.
Safety culture is simple, once you understand the essentials.
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