The worldwide public health crisis of 2020 has renewed the interest in organizational safety, with businesses and nonprofits being forced to invest in new equipment and policies. However, it soon became apparent that piecemeal solutions are the least cost-effective from the strategic perspective. Creating workplace safety that is both efficient and sustainable is only possible with the organization-wide commitment to the cause. Below is an overview of key steps for creating the culture of safety along with the common challenges organizations can face in the process.
What is Safety Culture?
In the broadest sense, safety culture is a way of doing things that brings down the number of potential risks to a minimum. It can be considered as an integral part of the organizational culture – a set of rules, procedures, and beliefs shared by all employees that pertain to workplace safety. The easiest way to describe safety culture is in terms of rules and policies. However, the term is actually more encompassing and includes many subtle components:
– Behavioral patterns
– Knowledge and experience
The concept came to prominence in the late twentieth century in parallel with risk management. It also became clear that all major accidents in the workplace are usually not due to unlucky coincidence but rather the lack of coherent effort to achieve safety systemically. In other words, safety culture is about fostering commitment to safety within the organization rather than enforcing rules.
Benefits of Safety Culture in the Workplace
Creating and maintaining a safety culture is a lengthy and elaborate process that requires considerable investments. For this reason, smaller organizations that don’t deal with immediate hazards are slow on implementing it. In reality, however, having a sound and sustainable culture of safety offers numerous advantages that justify the effort in the long term. Here is a rundown of the most apparent benefits.
1. Preparedness: When the staff is familiarized with the most likely emergency scenarios, they can deal with the situation in a fast and efficient manner. Even better, recognizing the threat early will help prevent the emergency from happening in the first place.
2. Decision-making: The ability to analyze the situation and make relevant decisions will not only reduce the losses from accidents but will also improve the company’s processes during regular operations.
3. Accountability: Understanding the consequences of one’s actions as well as the ability to deal with the situation adds to the sense of responsibility and encourages a proactive position.
4. Stability: Establishing a safe environment means fewer accidents in the long run and, by extension, more predictable and reliable performance.
5. Employee retention: The perception of a safe working environment improves employee satisfaction and contributes to the efficiency of HR practices.
6. Regulatory compliance: The presence of transparent safety policies improves the results of audits, simplifies reporting, and minimizes the chance of being fined.
So, while the culture of safety does require some resource allocation, it eventually pays off from the strategic perspective, especially once the effect is sustainable.
How to Create a Safety Culture in the Workplace: Key Steps
As is the case with all long-term endeavors, creating a culture of safety should be approached with a strategic mindset. So, for example, ordering and installing a fog unit disinfection tunnel will give the organization an advanced piece of protective equipment. Still, without an implementation strategy, this measure is not guaranteed to reduce the risk of pathogen transmission. To achieve a sustainable effect, you need to go through the following stages:
1. Define expectations and create vision
2. Formulate expected behaviors
3. Define and allocate responsibilities
4. Establish robust communication channels
5. Foster commitment across the organization
6. Review and modify reporting systems
7. Allocate resources
8. Model desired behaviors via incentives
9.Commit to continuous improvement
Let’s look at each of these stages in detail to help you with the transition towards a safer environment.
Safety is a multi-layered concept and will probably mean different things to different people. So, before you develop an implementation strategy or decide which equipment to order, make sure everyone in the organization is on the same page regarding what you strive to achieve. This will help you stay on the right track and spend resources more efficiently in the future.
Formulate Expected Behaviors
Once the goals are outlined, think about the means to reach them. The most straightforward example is creating safety policies and procedures, although these are usually a bare minimum for a safety culture. You will also need to review human resources practices to make them more conducive to safe behaviors. Simply put, don’t rely on rules too much and factor in personal judgment as well.
While drafting policies, you should also decide who should be responsible for their implementation. This covers both the vertical and horizontal structure. Oftentimes, it’s not those who deliver the guide to the office, but rather the ones that spearhead the change in the team who become the key to success.
A robust and open communication system is an integral part of a safe work environment. In addition to helping disseminate information, it improves morale and fosters employee engagement. According to the report by the Marlin Company, the cost of safety incidents goes down more than sixfold in workplaces with engaged employees.
Having well-designed policies is a good start, but to make them work you need to ensure that the team actually believes in and wants to follow them. This is particularly important for large companies, where the success of an initiative will depend on uniform participation throughout the organization rather than efforts of the management. Collecting feedback is really crucial at this stage, which is where the communication channels mentioned above will come in handy.
In the same way as feedback can highlight issues with employee engagement, an open reporting system will strengthen the chosen safety policies and practices. Workers should be ready to share their thoughts on the processes, like the safety of the newly installed sanitizer tunnel for COVID-19. The management, on the other hand, should be prepared to provide a rationale behind their decisions, thereby creating an honest and effective organizational system.
Once you understand what needs to be added to the system to create the safety culture, estimate the time and funding required to bring this plan to life. Note that equipment is not the only thing that will require investment, so factor in support from team members and the impact of the initiative on other organizational processes.
Encourage Desired Behaviors
Having the safe behaviors listed in guidelines isn’t enough to convince employees to follow them – certainly not in the long term. So, once the policies are in place, create incentives that will reward workers for committing to the cause. The alarm sounded by your advanced walk-through disinfection channel is a useful tool for maintaining respiratory etiquette, but on its own, it won’t convince people to embrace it. The determining factor here is recognition and understanding that they are doing the right thing.
Facilitate Continuous Improvement
Finally, remember that culture takes a long time to form, and not all of the decisions made during the planning stage will be optimal. To maintain consistency and address the arising issues, create a mechanism that will identify them. There are plenty of systems with proven effectiveness, such as PDCA, which is flexible enough to work in nearly every scenario.
Methods of Creating Workplace Safety
Safety culture is a multifaceted process, so its implementation has to be approached from several directions. For instance, let’s say you are planning to deploy a disinfectant fogger machine in your facility. Here are the main components that should be included in the process.
– Education: Organize training sessions where employees can familiarize themselves with the equipment and provide access to relevant resources such as a hypochlorous acid machine review.
– Communication: Arrange a way to submit reports and feedback in a non-binding manner to show employees that their contribution matters.
– Leadership: Create a positive example by following the established policies yourself to strengthen the commitment of your team.
– Involvement: Establish a committee with representatives from all levels of the organization to make sure that the decisions do not exclude any department.
Challenges of Creating Safety Culture
As with any complex organizational process, establishing a safety culture poses many challenges. According to one study from the healthcare domain, these challenges can be grouped into four categories:
1. Incompetent organizational infrastructure: Anything from the shortage of resources for the facility disinfection, the lack of professional competence among employees to the unfavorable environment that discourages the participants from trying to improve the situation.
2. Insufficient leadership effectiveness: As long as people in leading positions fail to demonstrate commitment to the behaviors expected from workers, the involvement of the latter will be superficial and short-lived. In the same manner, unless employees are included in the decision-making process, they will not have an opportunity to participate in the organizational growth and will have no reason for doing so.
3. National and international standards: The approval process in regulatory bodies is relatively conservative and slow, so even if a disinfectant is approved by one national agency, it still may not be recognized by others, thus slowing down the entire process.
4. Lack of team participation: Even with the stellar top-down management, the lack of horizontal coordination and problems in internal team dynamics will undermine an otherwise sound strategy. For instance, if some employees are dismissive of the reporting, it will compromise the practice for others.
Creating a safety culture in the workplace is a lengthy and complicated process. Fortunately, with the proper strategic perspective and commitment, it will eventually attain self-sustaining quality and benefit the organization in the long term. Hence, with the right resources and knowledge, it is possible to turn this process into a competitive advantage and maintain a safe and enjoyable working environment.