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.