More than ever before, organizations need to invest in safety to build a strong workplace culture
Talking about “culture” at work has become somewhat of a trend – the idea of building a strong workplace culture is an attractive idea for organizations wishing to attract and keep top talent, and encourage employee wellbeing. And a robust safety culture is an integral part of this, more so now than ever before. So how can organizations and their safety professionals invest and build a strong culture of safety?
1. Safety as a priority for leadership. Safety is only effective if it is practiced from the top down. This means that organizational leaders need to be aware of the importance of occupational health and safety and make it a priority for the organization. Obviously, leaders can’t be everywhere all at once, so they need to make sure to build a strong safety department, and invest to ensure success.
2. Communicate regularly with employers about safety. You can build the best safety program in the world, but if you’re not regularly communicating with your workers about the importance of it then you’ve wasted your time. Which leads us to our next point…
3. Encourage employees to participate in the safety program. Communication is important for employee buy-in, and a safety program is only effective if workers are doing their bit. Education goes a long way in teaching employees about the importance of safety. In a way, the role of the safety professional is almost that of a salesperson.
4. Provide training. Most workplaces need to provide some form of training to its workers depending on the nature of the job. But you don’t need to stop there. Most of your workers are on laptops at home? Maybe a cybersecurity course would be interesting. Are your workers in a lab? Perhaps a WHMIS refresher would be great. There’s always space to learn.
5. Lead by example. Employers and top safety pros need to model good behaviour, because if they aren’t leading the way then workers aren’t going to follow. Speaking with COS, Robert Antoniuk, head of safety at WestJet, said “the way that we facilitate and nurture [safety] is by ourselves being the type of individuals that don’t accept anything less than that if I see something, I report it.”
6. Conduct workplace safety assessments. Once you have built your safety program, the job doesn’t stop there. Hazards and risks are always evolving in the workplace. Newness, whether it be a new role or a new bit of equipment, brings with it the unknown. This is why safety pros need to regularly audit and inspect their safety programs, to make sure that everything is up-to-date so that workers are as well protected as possible.
7. Safety should be part of your broader strategic planning. The pandemic has shown how integral safety is to a business’ operations. Things such as business continuity planning, and supply chain integrity are directly linked to occupational health and safety. This is why safety shouldn’t be siloed off but included in the organization’s strategic planning.
8. Reward and recognize safety. Some companies have put into place incentive programs which encourage workers to improve their safety behaviours. Using the carrot rather than the stick can go a long way in helping improve an organization’s safety culture.
9. Ensure employees have access to information. Put notices on walls, ensure that all Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) are accessible, create an online portal with useful documents, share resources with workers, etc. There is so much information out there, ensure that you have an efficient system in place to share it.
10. Allocate budget for health and safety. A strong safety program usually comes with a cost, but this is a cost that will be justified in the long term. And ultimately, keeping workers healthy and safe should justify the price.
11. Never retaliate against an employee for raising a safety concern. Aside from legal considerations, this is just bad practice. Legitimate safety concerns absolutely need to be heard by the safety team and the employer. It’s a sign that something is wrong, or that something needs to be improved. Even if you may feel a concern is unfounded, you still need to listen to the employee. There’s always something to learn.
12. Anticipate possible resistance from employees and overcome this. Not all safety programs are well met. There may be resistance from workers, perhaps older workers who are used to doing things a certain way. Safety can be a tough journey, and it’s important to celebrate the little wins along the way.