How to Establish a Safety Culture Workplace

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Part 1

Defining Workplace Safety Culture

Introduction

In 1986, the world's worst nuclear plant accident occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power station. The incident killed 32 people and affected thousands more. The accident wasn't caused by a single mistake. A series of compounded mistakes and an attempted cover up drove this disaster. The concept of safety culture arose during the aftermath. Since then, instilling a safety culture has become an aspiration of almost every organization.

Many companies have the same end goal of improving safety culture. But, most do not understand what it should look like or how to achieve it.

According to OSHA, “Safety cultures consist of shared beliefs, practices, and attitudes that exist at an establishment. Culture is the atmosphere created by those beliefs, attitudes, etc., which shape our behavior.” But how can organizations measure culture and improve upon it?

The key is to understand how culture starts and spreads within an organization. When people at all levels of the organization feel heard, they have ownership of the process. Then they become instrumental contributors towards organizational change. Participation and communication are key to successful adoption of a safety culture. Leaders articulate their values and goals, which are then communicated to all employees. Employees in turn need to work and provide honest feedback to their leaders. As gaps in the organization begin to close, everyone can impact the beliefs and attitudes that affect safety performance.

When to start building a safety culture

The best time for organizations to start building a safety culture is now. Improving safety culture requires a proactive rather than a reactive approach to safety. Organizations shouldn't wait until employees have been injured to focus on safety culture. Backtracking to identify the cause after the fact leaves more employees vulnerable to injury, and harms the safety culture initiative. Taking a proactive approach helps safety leaders send a powerful message to employees. They'll understand how important their safety is to the company and will be more engaged in a strong, cohesive, safety program.

Collecting and tracking workplace safety observations from employees is one way companies can be proactive about safety. So how can organizations take these observations to build a stronger safety culture? The answer lies in using leading indicators to help identify risk factors.

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Part 2

What are Leading Indicators?

Leading Indicators

Leading indicators are actionable data points that identify an issue before an injury occurs. This could be something like an observation or a behavior. Through appropriate checklists of hazards and processes within an organization, these leading indicators and their derivative components can help an organization determine ‘what is safe’.

However, leading indicators are not set up with a universal OSHA formula like the lagging indicators of injuries. Because of this, most organizations look at hundreds of possible leading indicators. They do not have a standardized set of indicators to adopt. So what criteria should organizations use to pick leading indicators?

According to the Campbell Institute, organizations should only seek to track vetted indicators. These indicators must meet the criteria of being proactive, preventative, and predictive. Collecting a leading indicator for the sake of collecting a leading indicator can be a lesson in futility. Appropriate ranges for indicator metrics are developed based on their correlation to injuries. Diligent testing and study needs to be done to establish these appropriate ranges for comparison.
After studying over a decade’s worth of real world safety data – including over 320 million safety observations from nearly 6.75 million inspections collected by over 60,000 unique individuals – we’ve identified approximately 10 leading indicators that predict future safety incidents with high levels of accuracy and, we’ve got the data to back it up! These 10 leading indicators are tied to four safety truths that act as leading indicators of future safety incident risk:

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While tracking leading indicators is important, it is only one step towards improving safety culture. These indicators begin a discussion on process changes required to prevent workplace incidents. Predictive analytics can later be run on this data set to predict incidents and produce information on risk factors. Acting on predictions will help prevent incidents and keep workers safe.

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Part 3

Measuring Safety Culture

Analytically measuring the safety culture of an organization is a difficult task. Some companies worry that associating metrics with safety processes, procedures, and results will dehumanize their safety culture. Yet, we discussed earlier how these metrics are vital to predicting and preventing incidents. Besides standard leading indicators, engagement metrics from safety programs can act as “proxies” for safety culture. Using proxies is a good method for quantifying safety culture.

Depending on worksite and work type, different proxies can offer different insights. A worker’s willingness to take part in safety surveys, exercises, trainings, or data collection is a proxy measurement for how important safety is to the organization. This is also known as data completeness. If workers are unwilling to provide complete information or take part in safety related activities then management has not stressed the importance of safety culture. Incomplete information is then a proxy for a weak safety culture that starts from the top down.

psc_pillar_safety_culture_26apr18There are different ways to measure data completeness. Organizations can identify high risk activities and track risk reporting relating to that activity. For example, there should more inspections and worker observations reported around a risky activity. Reporting levels around a known risk will provide a proxy for the strength of the safety culture. It’s important for organizations to identify a few proxies. 

Data collection, safety exercises and trainings are methods that strengthen a safety culture. Culture is difficult to quantify; however, participation in these activities give leaders insight into the importance of safety to workers and vice versa. These activities will show where safety initiatives fall short, and allow leaders to adjust. Even the existence of this type of iterative safety review process is a proxy for a strong safety culture. If performance is weak, leaders can learn that they need to adjust how they communicate the importance of safety at their organization. This change can incentivize trust and cooperation between workers and leaders. Like all aspects of safety culture, the decision to do so starts with the people.

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Part 4

Biggest Threats to Safety Culture

Safety professionals must continuously improve their safety cultures and end injuries. Traditional safety improvement methods – safety training, lagging indicator and incident analysis, and safety consulting services bring short term results unless the company establishes a culture of safety that outlives individual programs. Long-term sustainable results are often elusive. Many companies get frustrated when they hit plateaus in their safety programs. Others generally can’t improve their safety cultures due to disengaged frontline workers or leaders. Often, this is because they haven't made proper investments in their people. 
Common safety challenges and threats include:
  • Hitting a performance plateau
  • Moving from a reactive to a proactive approach to safety
  • Lack of communication between disengaged safety leaders and disillusioned frontline workers
  • Lack of Vision/Strategy/Plan (VSP) for safety
  • Difficulty using a new safety process/software
  • Failing to realize expected ROI on those processes/softwares
Most of these challenges involve communication gaps, a lack of focus on people, and poor strategic planning. To move past communication gaps, involve your frontline workforce and leaders in the safety observation process. Ensure everyone is involved in identifying where they and their colleagues are at risk. Find ways to simplify this process. Observations from frontline employees can use a checklist focused on a few critical areas. For example, “eyes on task,” “using the proper tools,” and “housekeeping.”

While these checklists seem like small tasks, they can make a world of difference. For example, in 2008, the World Health Organization developed the Surgical Safety Checklist for surgeons. This 19 item checklist aimed to decrease errors by increasing communication in surgery rooms. The rate of any surgical complication dropped from 11.0% at baseline to 7.0% after hospitals introduced the checklist. The total in-hospital rate of death dropped from 1.5% to 0.8%. Hospitals that completed the quality improvement program designed to install the WHO’s surgical safety checklist cut post-surgical deaths by 22%.

Employees will start to identify areas for improvement after an organization implements checklists and observation programs. When this happens, leaders need to respond and fix them. Without this step, workers could become disillusioned with the process and start to disengage. This will have a negative effect on your safety culture. It could create a “venomous cycle.” In a venomous cycle, employees and leaders distrust each other and do not complete a productive observation and response cycle. This is the opposite of a virtuous cycle. In a virtuous cycle, employees and leaders communicate and trust each other, each providing feedback on how to improve safety. To create a “virtuous cycle”, leaders need to address risk areas. This motivates employees to provide more safety observations. As a result, the organization collects more safety data to use for incident prediction and prevention.

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Part 5

Ways to Maintain a Safety Culture Workplace

A strong workplace safety culture starts with leadership. Safety culture can have a lasting positive effect on employee well being and productivity. When workers know that their leaders care about their health, they work harder, longer, faster, and happier.

Here are a few ways that company leaders can maintain a strong workplace safety culture: 
  1. Document near misses or close calls: Actively preventing incidents before they occur should be part of management’s agenda, but it is important to learn from and react to experiences as they occur. This will show employees that leadership is dedicated to making whatever changes necessary to prevent close calls. Collecting data routinely helps leaders react quickly and appropriately because it gives them a sense of trends, allowing them to more easily identify what caused a near miss.
  2. Be present on site or on the floor: Ensuring the safety of the workforce means taking part in worker’s activities. Encourage leaders to be present while workers are engaging in risky situations. This builds a sense of trust and camaraderie between all job levels.
  3. Provide forums for worker feedback: Workers on the floor understand the risks associated with a worksite best. Providing channels for public or anonymous feedback encourages workers to keep themselves and coworkers safe.
  4. Ensure Accountability: Worker’s trust in leadership has a direct impact on their well-being and productivity at work. Making sure plant managers and on-site safety managers are held accountable for their work is crucial to preserving that trust. Allowing workers to survey their leaders gives the greater organization more well-rounded insights.
  5. Require Safety-Oriented Trainings: Whether a new or senior employee, required safety training sessions keep the whole organization in sync, especially as new processes, machines, and workers come in and out of the site. Studies show that increased investment in safety training leads to lower lost work day rates, especially when a company has identified the highest contributing factors to increases in lost work day.
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Part 6

Benefits of a Strong Safety Culture


Having a strong safety culture keeps an organization moving forward in a positive direction. With safety processes and procedures in place, the constant worry that an incident will occur fades, returning focus to the job at hand.

Feeling safe enables workers to focus on working harder and progressing their career. This leads to increased productivity for the organization, which can have significant fiscal benefits.

Companies with clean safety records are also more desirable places to work. A strong safety culture will engage a more skilled workforce.

According to OSHA, maintaining a strong safety culture is the largest contributor to accident reduction in the workplace. This is why developing and maintaining that culture should be at the forefront of management’s priorities.

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Part 7

Incorporating Safety Culture Into Your Safety Management System

A safety management system is what gives the company insight into how their employees are performing on safety on a day-to-day basis, and where bottlenecks and risks occur. At Predictive Solutions, we help organizations harness data and develop safety routines to keep their workers safe and reach their business goals. Our solutions aid safety departments by keeping them aware and proactive via data collection.

From a study conducted by the State of Massachusetts, researchers found significant changes to organizations’ incident rates, and consequently, workers compensation rates, after implementing a safety management system.

“The analysis of claims data from FY 2005-2014 shows a 12.2% decrease in claims after this initiative, 27% greater than that of comparable state higher educational institutions for which the order did not apply.”

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Predictive Solutions’ customers have seen an 83% reduction in incidents since utilizing SafetyNet. They are able to predict the time of their next incident with 97% accuracy. A safety management system that incorporates a technology platform like Predictive Solutions, can aid in predicting and preventing incidents. It can also help establish procedure around data collection that involve all employee levels. Workers can track and log information at the end of their day, and plant managers can complete inspections and routine checklists on the go and with ease. Processes and procedures become worksite routines. Keeping that routine ensures employees at all levels that safety is part of the company culture.

Maintaining a strong safety culture starts with the people. Enhance it further, by making it empirical and concrete. This is what gives a safety culture credibility at every level of employment. Use numbers and data associated with workplace strides and stumbles to show employees how their activities impact the organization. Be proactive by leveraging a safety management system that delivers actionable insights on risks while simultaneously forming a safety culture that eliminates workplace incidents.

Want to reference this later? Download this page as a PDF!

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