What are some of the top signs that an organization has brought its safety vision to life?
“There is a huge difference between mere compliance and effective safety,” says Linda Light, a safety expert with more than 20 years of safety training experience.
“Mere compliance is a ‘check in the box’: are we doing the least we need to do? Effective safety, in contrast, is much more: it’s where the core value of safety is in the fabric of what the organization does,” adds Light. We sat down with Light, who has provided training focused on workplace safety and OSHA compliance to thousands of organizations, to talk about how the “best in class” organizations make worker safety and health a core organizational value.
Although every organization will have its own way of cultivating a safe workplace, here are 5 of the top traits common among safe and healthy companies.
1. Management visibly demonstrates a commitment to safety.
Having a safe and healthy culture starts with having a safety and health policy that is as clear as possible. That policy should also be written and signed by leadership, says Light.
And, in high-performing cultures—those with minimal safety incidents or injuries—leadership is aligned with the idea that employee safety and health is just as important as profitability, productivity, service quality and customer satisfaction. “This kind of communication about safety as a value should also be clear to all stakeholders,” adds Light.
That includes contractors, subcontractors, staffing agencies, temporary workers, suppliers, vendors, visitors and even customers, when appropriate.
Not only do these companies make sure policies and programs are communicated, they also all have specific, measurable objectives that they share with workers. “These should focus on specific actions that will improve workplace safety and health, such as goals emphasizing injury and illness prevention,” says Light.
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2. Leaders set the example.
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Organizations that embrace safety as an organizational value have leaders that set a positive example through their own actions. “Management leadership must be visible,” explains Light.
“One of the most effective ways to do this is through setting an example for all by following the same safety procedures workers are expected to follow,” she says. “It is not what you know, but what you do that counts.”
Even OSHA has recognized the importance of management leadership and its direct impact on culture. OSHA has separated Management Leadership and Worker Participation into two separate elements. This separation reinforces the importance of shared responsibility between both leadership and workers, explains Light: “This only reinforces how business owners, managers, and supervisors all make worker safety and health a core organizational value.”
3. Two-way communication is supported.
Companies that put safety first also make room for open communication between management and workers. To know how workers are involved in implementing safety each day, two-way communication is fundamental.
Many organizations make time for two-way communication in their regular meetings. “Safety shouldn’t be the last thing that’s covered all the time,” explains Light. “When safety isn’t an add-on, but it’s an actual part of meetings or part of the agenda, that is a positive sign.” Communicate often, and ensure workers understand there will be no retaliation based on their feedback.
In organizations that are safe and healthy, communication related to safety does not just come from HR or from the safety director or committee. “If there is a safety initiative, management outside of safety can be the one who kicks off the initiative, and who communicates about it. This helps everyone in the organization get behind the initiative, and contribute.”
4. The right behaviors are celebrated.
Has your company reinforced behavior that reflects your company values, including safety? Or have you rewarded those who shed light on potential hazards?
“Behavior rewarded equals behavior repeated,” says Light, who says that a major part of rewarding behaviors is identifying the right behaviors to begin with.
It may seem clear to management what the “right” behaviors are, but make sure all parties really do see how to bring those values to life through their own actions. “It comes back to the actions behind the word ‘safety.’ Effective companies have the ability to drill down, and ask, ‘How do we do it?’” adds Light.
“This is about, organizationally, being involved in implementing safety day-to-day, on an ongoing basis.”
5. Workers have the tools to be agile.
When potential risks or hazards arise, effective safety leaders are able to act in a timely manner. Best in class companies make sure that all workers (not just safety leaders and/or HR) have the ability to capture time-sensitive data. In an ideal scenario, this can be proactive and reactive information to help the company reduce risks and become safer.
“Finding and fixing hazards in the workplace as quickly and efficiently as possible reduces lost productivity. It reduces operational downtime, reduces the potential costs, and most of all keeps your employees safe,” adds Light.
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About Linda Light
Linda Light, Safety Expert and OSHA-authorized trainer, has more than 20 years of safety training experience focusing on workplace safety and OSHA compliance. Light provides training through 10 and 30 Hour OSHA Outreach courses for General Industry and Construction. She works with companies to integrate safety into organizational systems, benefiting companies in the short and long term. Learn more about her safety training solutions.