Developing a “Safety Culture” vs developing a Positive or Focused or Meaningful Safety Culture…

At the recent National Safety Council annual Congress and Exposition in San Diego, the NSC’s central booth focused on their “Journey to Safety Excellence” initiative. It’s a nice way to summarize one model of a path that companies travel on their way to safety excellence. It looks like a great set of tools to help companies reduce incidents and exposures, improve compliance, and improve management skills as well.

One of the interesting features of their booth display was an in-person survey of the issues that people felt were the most pressing or challenging related to their own companies journey. The results were evident immediately and graphically via dropping a poker chip into a labeled large clear acrylic tube, so the the stacking of chips made an immediate “bar graph” display of results. the four choices were as follows:

Leadership and Employee Engagement

Safety Management Systems

Risk Reduction

Performance Measurement

Is it any surprise that “Leadership and Employee Engagement” was the leading category by a wide margin? People at many companies and organizations are seeking more engagement in safety and risk reduction. They are seeking increased engagement at all levels, and they know that engagement is necessary for any larger success in safety excellence to occur. This is a worthy topic, and there is one simple point I’d like to address today:

What does it mean to refer to “Safety Culture” development?

One of the informal definitions of culture that I want to revisit is the simple phrase “Culture is the way we do (and see) things around here.”

So what is we seek to develop? One recently popular notion that because all organizations have some sort of culture related to safety, including dysfunctional and counterproductive versions of safety culture, just saying that seeking to develop “safety culture” is not enough. The naysayers say that you already have a safety culture and that what you need to do is make it better. Sure, that’s technically true, but framing the situation that way is a needless technical hangup, that will end up confusing a lot of end users. So let it be known that in common use, referring to developing a safety culture means developing a safety culture that is better, more effective, and more advanced than what you are starting with.

Keep in mind the following characteristics of a great safety culture:

  • A great safety culture is effective at reducing risks and losses
  • A great safety culture is understood at all levels
  • A great safety culture is realistic and not theoretical
  • A great safety culture exists across all portions of an organization
  • A great safety culture is focused on meaningful action
  • A great safety culture includes understanding of how safety supports production goals
  • A great safety culture is not just for show

What means do you use to know where you are starting from and where you need to go? Do you do employee safety perception surveys? Do you have meetings that bring different levels together? Do you solicit input and ideas both formally and informally?

And most importantly, do you truly value that the input you get from your workforce? How do they know that?

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