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10 Ways to Make Your Safety Culture Thrive

Safety implications for businesses extend far beyond injury and property damage. An effective safety culture is critical to ensuring that business operations and output continue, and that facilities remain incident-free. Here are ten ways that organizations can invest in a strong safety culture to ensure that people, property, and productivity are safeguarded.

  1. Set appropriate expectations – It is important that everyone understands their respective roles and what they are accountable for on the job. Organizations tend to leverage regulatory requirements to guide them in setting expectations, but it is equally important to clarify business priorities. A sure-fire way to improve safety in the workplace is to establish a culture where safety is prioritized over production. Are your workers encouraged to pause work for safety reasons? Do they feel pressured to deliver results rather than keeping safety at the forefront? 
  2. Build shared ownership – Everyone should know and own their safety responsibilities. A great way to enrich an organization’s safety culture is by fostering an environment that shares ownership of safety tasks. Taking this tack helps everyone to properly understand how their safety benchmarks meld with others to achieve optimal safety. In the spirit of transparency and collaboration, give workers an opportunity to raise and answer questions as a team. Do your workers spend time sharing their accountabilities and learning more about their peers’ safety responsibilities?
  3. Help them believe – More often than not, training is treated as a check-the-box requirement for safety compliance. Real impact training not only helps workers acquire insights and techniques to be safer, it cultivates knowledge, skills, and an attitude that leads to changed behaviors. Without that deeper understanding, employees and contractors may be tempted to bypass or reduce safety steps in the interest of productivity. Have your workers been adequately trained so that they believe in the importance of performing their designated safety controls?
  4. Right people, right skills – Workers need the right skills to perform their assigned tasks. Qualifications should be considered prior to delegating responsibilities to personnel. A level of thoughtful consideration is especially important as an individual’s level of accountability changes or increases. How are you ensuring that individuals have the right competence to perform required safety tasks?
  5. Make it easy to comply – Cumbersome compliance systems contribute to the complacency that can hurt a safety culture. If workers find permitting to be difficult, then they may seek ways to circumvent mandatory procedures. If workers cannot attend scheduled training due to conflicts with their schedule, then they may skip mandatory learning that is critical for safety. How are you ensuring compliance is simple and feasible for your workers?
  6. Part of performance review – Expectations, training, and compliance must be built into regular performance reviews. Supervisors need to purposefully observe and provide feedback to employees about strict adherence to safety policies and procedures. Those same managers must be rewarded and disciplined equally for meeting production AND safety benchmarks. Does your management and workforce receive feedback, rewards, and recognition for ensuring safe operations and compliance?
  7. Talk the talk – I once visited an organization that takes time during each meeting to share a safety example or misstep to underscore the relevancy of the company’s policies and procedures. Those weighing in during this discussion hailed from both the operations and business sides of the organization. Beyond having visual cues, such as signage in the workplace, teams should spend time talking about safety. Complacency is the biggest enemy of a safety culture. The more that teams discuss safety, the more likely it will be top of mind as they work. Do your workers have a channel to discuss safety issues regularly?
  8. Walk the walk – Take time to celebrate good safety practices and digest poorly executed plans. People learn from both good and bad examples so be sure to debrief incidents, inspect outcomes, and audit situations. Learning does not and should not end with training. Do your workers regularly celebrate successes and learn from mistakes?
  9. Encourage curiosity – Asking questions can often be frowned upon with some mistakenly perceiving curiosity as incompetence. Teach workers to know when it is appropriate to question if adequate safety controls are being applied, especially during moments of change management when occupations and usage could be in flux. Managers and workers should have access to internal and external experts for safety-related questions and should be encouraged to keep up with the latest safety practices outlined in codes, standards, and training.  Are your managers and workers encouraged to be curious and to build on their career capabilities?
  10. Build partnerships with AHJs – Many people treat audits and inspections as a threat and may withhold information for fear of receiving poor ratings. The truth is that auditors and inspectors are safety culture allies. Their insights help organizations improve safety outcomes, so it is essential for businesses to be honest and transparent during any kind of analysis. Are you leveraging audits and inspections to regularly assess and improve your safety program and culture?

It is widely known that codes and standards provide the solid foundation for an organization’s safety infrastructure. For the benefit of business continuity and workplace culture, key managers and workers in an organization should:

  1. learn how codes and standards inform safety program policies, procedures, and best practices;
  2. believe that everyone plays a role in safety; and 
  3. be curious and critically assess potential hazards based on the latest information and training.

Investing in an organization’s safety culture and the need for skilled labor are two critical components of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™.  In a nutshell, the Ecosystem shows us that safety is a system; the framework is being used around the world to facilitate important discussions in the workplace.

Find out how NFPA can help your organization improve its safety culture through codes and standards, research, training, certifications, and membership

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Bartholomew Jae
Bartholomew Jae
Director, Education & Development

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