Operating an illness- and injury-free facility is no longer a dream. In many workplaces, it has become a reality—and not just for one year but for several years running. To achieve this success, a company must make one crucial decision: It must commit itself to making safety a core value. Better yet, it should make safety the organization’s chief value.
Safety Cultures Comes from the Top Down
In the past, companies have viewed safety as a line-driven activity that must first be implemented at the bottom and work its way to the top. In fact, just the opposite is true. Safety must start with an organization’s senior management and leadership team that demonstrate their own active commitment to safety with a passion that permeates through the entire organization.
Workplaces that achieve the highest levels of safety have done so by creating a culture that embraces safety and empowers employees to maintain a commitment to safety in everything they do. To improve the safety culture of an organization, consider the following:
- The safety process must touch every person in the organization;
- Safety must be a permanent agenda item, discussed at the start of every meeting;
- Leaders must be held accountable for safety performance;
- Safety must be the operational fabric of a facility, not a separate function; and
- Safety must be integral to every business activity.
OSHA concurs with this assessment stating that “the best Safety and Health Programs involve every level of the organization, instilling a safety culture that reduces accidents for workers and improves the bottom line for managers,” concluding that “when safety and health are part of the organization and a way of life, everyone wins.”
Making Safety Part of the Company’s Fabric
In this context, “safety departments” don’t exist. Of course, safety professionals are vitally important but their role shifts to a resource function that empowers others through capability development, coaching and mentoring. The very best safety programs are owned at the manufacturing line, utilizing production-level employees on teams to develop and implement safety processes. Safety should also be aligned with other business functions to ensure that it receives the necessary resources and attention.
To be successful, organizations should create career paths that turn employees into safety leaders by ensuring that everyone is highly trained and motivated not just to meet but to exceed expectations. The focus should be on developing a culture that supports the belief that every employee can create and maintain a workplace free of illness and injury. The result will be workers who feel ownership of the safety process and a shift from an independent to an interdependent work culture. This will eliminate unsafe behaviors and conditions and the injuries and illnesses they create.
Rather than simply meeting regulatory requirements, organizations will achieve safety excellence. According to OSHA, when a company’s safety culture is strong, “everyone feels responsible for safety and pursues it on a daily basis; employees go beyond ‘the call of duty’ to identify unsafe conditions and behaviors, and intervene to correct them.”
With this in mind, consider posting the following three safety principles throughout your facility to underscore the importance your organization places on achieving its safety goals:
- Any person can and must confront unsafe behaviors and conditions. No one is authorized to disregard such a warning;
- No one is expected to perform any function or accept any direction that they believe to be unsafe to themselves or others, or that creates an unsafe situation regardless of who directs them to take such an action; and
- Anyone who feels that a process is unsafe will shut down that process and work with appropriate team members to create a safe situation.
One final word of advice: Don’t be afraid to miss targets or make mistakes. Everybody experiences setbacks at some point. Moreover, the errors you make represent opportunities to identify and correct the deficiencies in your safety process. The essence of success, in other words, isn’t to avoid making mistakes but to avoid making the same mistakes twice.