Workplace injuries happen every day, with varying frequencies related to the details of the industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than 2.7 million nonfatal workplace injuries in the United States in 2020, a little less than the 2.8 million reported in 2019. While less than 5,000 fatal injuries were reported in the United States in 2020, creating a workplace safety culture can help reduce both of these statistics.
When we discuss workplace safety, the question always comes up — what comes first? Does creating a safety culture attract safer workers, or do you need safe workers to build a safety culture?
Define Safety Culture
We hear the phrase ‘safety culture’ bandied about with other industry buzzwords like ‘sustainability’ and ‘going green,’ but what does creating a safety culture mean? There is no collective definition for what might be encompassed in safety culture, but it generally refers to how safety gets managed in the workplace. Instead of focusing strictly on safety rules or OSHA regulations, building a safety culture means combining perceptions and beliefs about safety with employee attitudes.
Together with the safety rules and regulations we’ve already mentioned, workplace safety transitions from an obligation to a culture. Everyone becomes responsible for their workplace actions and their impact on the health and safety of everyone around them. Safety culture might look dramatically different in a low-risk industry than in a high-risk one. Employees working in retail won’t need the same sort of safety rules or protocols that someone working in manufacturing or construction might.
Steps Toward Building a Safety Culture
What does building a safety culture look like? The answer to this question will vary dramatically from industry to industry, but there are some basic tenants applicable to every type of workplace.
Start by defining everyone’s responsibilities where safety is concerned and creating a vision for the organization moving forward. Everyone needs to have a clear picture of what the company expects of them and what their responsibilities might be moving forward. The goal is to get everyone on the same page and working toward the same outcome.
The next step involves setting up an open and comprehensive communication system. This system needs to go both ways. Employers need tools to update their teams on new safety initiatives or projects. Conversely, employees need a clear chain of command and avenues to share safety issues or provide feedback on the culture. Take the time to build a comprehensive reporting system and involve all employees, regardless of their organizational levels.
Next, ensure that you’re implementing hands-on training. Investing in in-depth, hands-on training can help to support your budding safety culture while showing your employees that you care enough to invest in their success. Management isn’t exempt from these training sessions. A successful safety culture requires modeling expected behaviors from the top down.
Finally, ensure that everyone is being held accountable. A zero-tolerance policy isn’t effective because instead of helping people learn from their mistakes, it encourages them to be afraid of making any mistakes. Instead, implement a three-strikes policy. This type of policy allows you to monitor your safety culture and judge its effectiveness, and it also gives people the chance to learn from mistakes they might make in the workplace. We learn best from mistakes, and, assuming that these aren’t malicious, people should be given a chance to correct them and change how they approach workplace safety.
How To Recruit Safety-Conscientious Workers
Building a workplace safety culture is only one piece of the puzzle. Hiring safe workers help to complete the equation and ensure everything falls into place. Unfortunately, hiring safety-conscious workers isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Carefully craft interview questions to judge employees’ reactions to safety issues. Make sure you’re analyzing both verbal and non-verbal reactions to the question. Include questions like:
- Have you ever felt unsafe at work, and how did you handle this situation?
- Have you ever been in a situation where you noticed or felt the need to report a workplace safety issue, and how did you handle it?
- How would you handle an employee who refuses to follow safety procedures or regulations?
Feel free to customize or adjust these questions or create your own, depending on your company’s needs. Questions about safety don’t necessarily have to be limited to workplace experiences. Do they use protective equipment when working on DIY projects at home or obey all traffic laws on their commute to work? Safety as a culture isn’t just limited to what someone does when they’re on the clock. Discussions like this can tell you a lot about how an employee thinks about safety as a whole.
Similar to your workplace culture, allowing potential employees to ask questions about your safety rules, procedures and practices is essential. While it helps to open a line of communication, it also gives you another opportunity to assess the new hire’s understanding of workplace safety. If, when allowed to ask a question, they choose to refrain, they may not be a good fit for your company. It’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, but if they don’t value safety enough to ask questions about it during their interview, they may not fit well in your existing safety culture.
These interview questions are a great way to assess and identify safety red flags. People who create a problem within your safety culture will usually identify themselves early on. They’re often incredibly outspoken about their beliefs — often at top volume — and may believe that certain rules, such as the use of PPE, don’t apply to them.
Creating a Safe Workplace
Creating a safe workplace might seem impossible, but it’s more important than ever. This task becomes even more important and challenging in high-risk industries like construction or manufacturing. Creating a safety culture in your workplace is only one piece of the puzzle. A safety culture is only as effective as the people participating in it. Taking the time to hire safety-centric employees will make supporting a safety culture and maintaining a safe workplace easier.