Although training programs of all types are important, safety training has the potential to come with serious consequences if the information is not fully absorbed and adopted in the workplace. This is why it is so critical for employers to make safety training both accessible and effective. The goal should be for employees to not only understand safety protocols but have the conviction to enforce them proactively.
This might seem like a lofty goal, especially for large organizations with thousands of employees in the field. However, by creating a culture of safety that starts with leadership and instills conviction in individual workers, your company can go beyond just compliance to the next level of total commitment to safety. When you successfully develop a culture of safety, it doesn’t matter what the specific standards and processes are—you can be confident that everybody in the organization takes personal ownership for their actions. How do you get there? By building conviction—first with leaders and then with employees.
The Vital Role of Leaders
The first critical step in creating a culture of safety is getting every leader fully on board, even those who are not regularly in the field or on the shop floor. This means more than just saying that safety is important. It means making a commitment to passionately champion safety in the workplace, demonstrating and teaching the behavior you want to see in others, and requiring compliance every minute of every day.
1. Commitment Is Crucial
No leader is going to say that safety is not a priority, but there’s a wide gap between passively assuming the existing safety training program is sufficient and proactively pushing an agenda. Committing to safety is a good idea for multiple reasons. Firstly, the well-being of every individual in the company and the surrounding environment is a top priority. Additionally, a culture of safety results in less money lost to equipment repair, operating downtime, and lost productivity.
Leaders can demonstrate a strong commitment to safety by:
- Firmly believing that all safety standards must be followed at all times
- Offering comprehensive training to all employees
- Participating in safety training themselves
- Understanding that they are also accountable for compliance
To successfully create a culture of safety, leadership must be committed at every level . Without this level of engagement, you can’t expect individual employees to become excited about safety and embrace the culture.
2. Behavior Modification Requires Modeling and Coaching
Credibility is instantly lost the moment a leader steps onto a job site without personal protective equipment (PPE) or fails to put on eye protection in a manufacturing environment. These are just basic examples of the need for leaders to model behavior in the workplace. Executives and managers must lead by example, and that means proactively demonstrating how they want others to perform.
Coaching is also an essential element of building conviction in a culture of safety. Employees must know that leadership takes safety as seriously as they do. This means communicating about desired skills and showing employees not just how tasks are performed in certain ways, but also why. Effective coaching also allows leaders to demonstrate that they have a deep understanding of safety protocols and the reasons they are in place.
3. Compliance Must Be Mandatory
Failing to follow safety protocols can have serious consequences. For this and other reasons, compliance must be mandatory, and that message must come from leadership. When processes start to slip, it is up to leadership to recognize it and take action. When leaders don’t notice or don’t act on a failure in compliance, workers are likely to become more lax, because they believe that adherence to safety protocols is either not a priority or that the rules are not enforced.
Lapses in compliance must be met with consequences appropriate to the failure, but also reinforcement of the reasons that the safety procedures are in place—not just the what, but also the why. Mistakes are learning opportunities on which leaders can capitalize to improve processes and instill the necessary conviction to create a culture of safety.
Control Leads to Conviction for Employees
After establishing a commitment among leadership, successfully creating a culture of safety among employees is rooted in control and choice. Every individual must firmly believe that their number-one job is not to complete a certain task, but to ensure a safe environment for themselves, their co-workers, and their surroundings. This can be achieved by realizing that actions have consequences, recognizing that those actions impact more than just the people taking them and that they have a choice in everything they do.
1. Personal Power Is Real
The first step is for employees to recognize that they have much more power than they might realize and that their actions impact not just the next few moments, but possibly years to come. Workers also have the ability to control not just their own actions, but to influence the behavior of those around them. They must also understand that this power allows them to have a certain amount of control, and therefore, they have a responsibility to control what they can.
When employees come to this realization, they become empowered to be proactive about promoting safety in the workplace. By operating with the mindset that preventable accidents are 100 percent avoidable, employees will embrace their personal power to control what they can, resulting in an overall safer environment.
2. Responsibility Is Shared
Because every individual can influence the safety of their environment, they have a responsibility to act carefully and thoughtfully. By understanding that their behavior can impact not just themselves, but other workers and the organization as a whole, employees will feel more accountable for their actions and take ownership of their choices. In a culture of safety where everybody has the same level of accountability (both leaders and employees), the result is a feeling of shared responsibility that leads to smart choices.
This sense of shared responsibility has a compounding effect that contributes to sustaining a culture of safety. Individuals pay attention to not only their work but also the activities around them. Workers who look out for each other and embrace safety as a team effort will never let a teammate fail.
3. Make Choices That Matter
After realizing just how important their own actions are and adopting a feeling of shared responsibility, individuals must understand the power of choices. Employees make countless choices each day without even realizing it, including the choice not to act in some cases.
The only way for workers to control their environment and guarantee that safety is a top priority is to make conscious choices, such as:
- Ensuring that safe behavior happens at all times, not just when it’s convenient
- Speaking up to prevent others from making potentially dangerous mistakes
- Proactively offering safety protocol suggestions based on practical experience
Employees must firmly believe that when they have a choice between cutting a corner to save time or money and following a safety protocol to the letter, there is truly only one option: the safe one. Controlling outcomes is up to individuals, and in a culture of safety, everybody takes this responsibility very seriously.
Conviction Can Be Taught
Most employees don’t walk in the door on day one with the level of conviction that is required in a culture of safety. Fortunately, it is possible to impart conviction through ongoing training and reinforcement. It starts with leadership making the decision that safety is a top priority and flows down to individual employees who become committed to going beyond compliance and being personally invested in safety in the workplace.
While the content of a safety training program is obviously important, how you impart the knowledge is just as critical. Handing over a manual and telling employees that they must read it will yield very different results from holding a multi-day experiential learning event. Giving employees the opportunity to see that their actions (and inactions) have consequences and that they have the power to control how they act will instill the conviction that what they do matters. With this conviction, any safety program will be embraced and promoted by every individual in the organization.
When done successfully, creating a culture of safety will mean that individuals look forward to training events so that they can learn how to improve processes and reduce incidents. They will support their co-workers by encouraging them to embrace the safest practices and offering assistance when it’s needed. They will enthusiastically advocate for ongoing training and support. They will make smart choices to ensure that all of their actions contribute to the culture of safety. All because they have the conviction to make their workplace as safe as possible.