Six steps toward building a culture of safety at your workplace

April 26, 2017 | EMC Insurance Companies

Article courtesy of the Risk Improvement Department, EMC Insurance Companies, Des Moines. For more information, go to  and select Loss Control.

It’s a no-brainer that safety is important to the success of your organization, but it’s harder to figure out how to build a company safety culture—a set of values carried through all company actions—that strongly encourages both safety and reporting.

Beyond the essentials of following Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, providing training and keeping good records, there is more to ensuring your employees believe in safety, follow rules and feel comfortable reporting problems. These 6 steps can help you create a safety culture:

  1. Communicate Your Message Effectively—Engineers and others who get involved in safety programs may know what needs to be done to solve and prevent accidents, but may not be the best at communicating issues and solutions. When working with others—employees, supervisors and management—more communication among groups is almost always better than less. One of the goals of effective communication is to ensure that everyone feels comfortable “saying their piece” and knowing there won’t be negative consequences for reporting problems.
  2. Stay Positive—Softening the message can help gain acceptance. The focus on safety and reporting problems is important, but rather than harping on the negative, begin with statements about all the ways your company and employees do it right. After that message sinks in, you can move on to asking questions such as:
    • Why have we had this problem in the past?
    • How can we improve?
    • How can we report problems sooner and get them resolved sooner?
    • What are our goals for better risk management in the safety arena?
  3. Get Everyone on the Same Page—With a diverse group of employees and managers, everyone involved should understand their responsibilities to move safety forward, but it may take persistence to sort out how to get this done. Always starting with the premise that safety is the top priority can make this easier. Taking time to listen to others’ observations can be enlightening and effective in discovering and implementing solutions that everyone can agree on.
  4. Keep It Simple—It’s human nature to shy away from complex tasks. If making safety improvements and reporting is difficult, with lots of steps and paperwork involved, it won’t happen.
  5. Respond Quickly—Employees expect a quick acknowledgement when they report a problem. They also want to be sure that the problem gets fixed or otherwise addressed within a reasonable time frame. Otherwise, they may feel as if their voice doesn’t matter and might be hesitant to notify you of problems in the future.
  6. Gain Leadership Support—It’s not easy for a company to commit time, energy and dollars to efforts that may not improve the bottom line immediately, but a lack of support from above can leave you floundering. In this case, working hard to overcome the 5 challenges listed above may help you move forward with increased management support.

Take Your Time
Changing the culture of an organization takes time, so expect to measure your progress in baby steps. Take a long view and have patience as you plot out where your organization is today vs. where you want to be. Keep working toward your goals and keep records of the successes you achieve; those can help boost you through times when you don’t see much progress.

Throughout the process, it’s easy to get discouraged if you can’t always get support from management, if workers are hesitant to report problems for fear of reprisal or if there just isn’t enough funding to do what you believe needs to be done.

You may feel like you aren’t making a dent in the problem, but standing back and reviewing your accomplishments (small as they may seem) is a good way to regroup. Also, think about how much worse things may have been had you done nothing. Be sure to celebrate the wins your company does accomplish. Were slips and falls reduced 30% year over year? Did an employee come up with a new, safer way to perform a task? If so, let everyone know!