Actually Increase Safety Culture, Don’t Just Talk About It

I hear a lot about the importance of safety culture. Its talked about often but what does it mean?

Building a safety culture is really easy to say, but what does one manager do in order to actually make an impact on an entire company's view on safety as a whole? The Association of Builders and Contractors (ABC) has released it's findings regarding this in their annual report.

In this report, the ABC have identified leading indicators that correlate to an 85% decrease in total recordable incident rate (TRIR) making companies that track them 680% safer.

The amount of effort that goes into managing and tracking these leading indicators can be overwhelming, which is why most companies that are able to implement these systems are large national firms that have budget to hire the administrative support personal necessary to organize the incoming information. Smaller firms are able to start the initiative, but they soon abandon the effort due to the administrative burden that gets placed on the safety managers already overflowing plate.

The eight (8) core leading indicators that their report talks about are the following:

  • Toolbox Safety Talks
  • Substance Abuse Programs
  • Safety Program Performance Reviews
  • Taking action on Trailing Indicators
  • Employer Supervisory Safety Meetings
  • Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Pre Planning for Job site Safety
  • Safety Program Goal Setting

Along with these eight core leading indicators a company should be making the following commitments. A companies leadership ultimately sets the tone for the culture that exists within a company. I've found that without the leadership team committing to safety the results will be very limited. The leadership style that works best in construction often tends to be "lead by example". Field level workers tend to trust and respect a manager or executive that has walked in their shoes, this applies to both in their job role but for the purposes of our topic, safety.

When senior leadership practises what they preach, this is witnessed by the employees as an important part of their operation, and creates a level of accountability for every worker to participate in safety.

When the bases are covered, it's amazing to see what the impact is. Something that would seem so small makes the biggest difference. Such as toolbox talks.

Toolbox talks are something that every worker becomes accustomed to. They are often a time when the whole group of workers gets together to either summarize hazards and controls that exist on site, cover a specific topic, or review near miss' that were submitted. I recall sitting in on these meetings with peers, where my manager would stumble through the prepared toolbox talk topic. To be honest, I could tell that he didn't care about it, he was just told that he had to deliver the talk, and the workers had to sit in on it. This is an example of a lack of commitment from management, we as workers didn't care because we could see that management didn't care.

Fun and creative talks are far superior to just reading aloud a paragraph of text. That really isn't participating, because nobody is tuned into the message. We are physically there but not mentally. Something as small as an exciting toolbox talk that I can actively participate in can mean all the difference when it comes to the building blocks of a great safety culture.

A substance abuse program can make a very difficult conversation into a regularly talked about topic. Opening up the airwaves to allow workers to discuss topics like substance abuse will give your workforce a sense of phycological safety necessary for a strong safety culture.

Safety program performance reviews should be completed twice per year and they are a way to create accountability for the workers, but they also allow management to review what is working, and more importantly, what isn't working. Understanding where safety is breaking down is an important part to implementing a successful safety culture. Measuring how many incidents took place, how many near-miss' were submitted, what do survey results from field staff look like, what about overall engagement of the workforce? All of these are key and need to be looked at regularly.

Use of PPE can be monitored through regular safety audits of workers in the field. Send out your safety staff to make observations in the field, and rank those observations as either safe or if they are unsafe, how unsafe are they? low, med, high, extreme risk opportunity. This will give management the perfect picture to see how their workforce uses the PPE required for the job.

Pre planning for job site safety seems to come up in conversation frequency when I chat with safety management. This seems to be a larger issue of a lack of communication with project teams and safety teams. The issue I hear about is that the safety team gets brought into the project too close to the project kick off date. Then as they identify potential issues or start to ask questions about safety, there is no time to properly implement anything, so the project gets started with no safety plan in place while the safety team plays catch up. The pre planning process should engage right from the start of the project creation. There is a lot of money to be saved by involving the safety teams from the very start because it's always easier and simpler to build safety into the project than it is to add it on after. When safety is built in, it showcases the commitment to safety from management which re-enforces workers attitudes towards safety, ultimately laying the ground work for strong safety culture.

Safety program goal setting is necessary for anything to be declared successful. Without a goal in mind, everything is observational or anecdotal. In order to achieve a goal, something must be measured. In order to measure something, processes must be in place to enable the extraction of the information necessary. This might be a spreadsheet that somebody fills out, or it could be through a platform technology like SafetyTek. Either way, the simple act of having to think of a goal, decide what to measure in order to deem a goal achieved or failed, and putting it into practise is all that is needed to re-enforce a strong safety culture!

Now, I feel like I need to re-iterate that all of these systems can take a lot of effort to implement and maintain. Most companies just simply do not have the resources to be successful in running each of the initiatives I've described above. Here is where I introduce a better way to think about your implementation.....SafetyTek automatically gives a safety manager the platform needed to setup the implementation of an initiative and deploy it, so that they can move on to the next initiative while only needing to checkin periodically to see how everything is running. We have the nag systems in place to measure which workers need the most reminding, or who should I be championing in the field in order to motivate individual or groups of people to participate in safety. As our slogan states, with our platform we can help you identify where safety breaks down at the field level in order for you to take action and fill the gaps through leadership.

To learn more about this topic I encourage you to watch the webinar we presented recently on Creating a Culture of Safety Excellence.

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