Improve Your Safety Culture Today: Part 2 of Five-Part Blog Series

Systems_Optimal Safety Culture


By Josh Williams, Ph.D.

Forward thinking leaders are continually searching for ways to advance safety culture and prevent serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs). Several years ago, I published a book with Government Institutes entitled, “Keeping People Safe: The Human Dynamics of Injury Prevention.” The book was designed to be a user-friendly guide for leaders to improve safety culture and performance. Here are key takeaways from the book that may help your safety improvement efforts. Each of the five sections in Figure 1 are detailed in this 5-part blog series. In
part one, ways to improve safety leadership were explored. In Part 2, we’re addressing strategies to improve safety systems.

Safety Systems

One of the challenges with safety change efforts is that they’re often done in a vacuum without understanding and addressing larger system issues. For instance, efforts to improve safety recognition may fall flat if incident analyses are overly punitive.

Improving safety systems is critical to optimize safety leadership and employee participation in safety. Leading organizations have safety systems that reflect a larger learning culture. Here are some guidelines for several key systems to ensure they are helping, and not hindering, your safety culture efforts.

Close Call Reporting: Close call reporting should be encouraged in a learning environment where people learn from each other to prevent serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs). Effective leaders recognize employees for openly reporting and discussing near-hits that could have turned into serious injuries.
Incident Analyses: Incident analyses should be system focused and not blame-oriented. Leaders need to differentiate between incidents with and without SIF potential. For instance, spraining your ankle stepping out of a truck is very different doing so falling from a telephone pole. Lessons learned from incident analyses should be shared with employees and system improvements should follow when appropriate.
Rules: Employees should have input in determining safety rules for many job tasks. Leaders should avoid “blanket policies” when they’re not applicable and resist the temptation to create a new rule every time someone gets injured. New rules also need to be effectively shared with employees beyond emails and manuals.
Safety Training: Safety training should be interactive and interesting. Employees should leave training feeling like they’ve been actively involved and learned something important. This works better when they have a voice in training and openly express their opinions.
Hazard Recognition: Employee teams should assist with hazard recognition and correction. Identified hazards need to be quickly and effectively addressed. Advertising improvements based on identified hazards improves safety culture and morale because employees sense company leaders care about their safety.
Employee Participation: Employees should be actively involved in the safety systems above. Exhortations to get involved are far less effective than having employee representatives actively involved in systems like observations, rule changes, close call reporting, and safety suggestions.

Here are six things you can do today to improve your safety systems.
1. Ensure safety hazards are quickly and effectively addressed and that you advertise changes and improvements.
2. Get more input with safety rules and make sure safety policies are clear, well documented, and communicated to employees. This includes conversations beyond email.
3. Improve your incident analysis to better identify and address issues with SIF potential. Make sure the process is system focused and not blame oriented. Punishment should be rarely used (i.e., willful negligence, repeat violations).
4. Use evaluations to determine the effectiveness of your safety training. Determine if the training is viewed as interactive and interesting. Make sure new employees receive sufficient training and more tenured employees receive refresher training.
5. Make sure your safety committees have hourly representatives who have legitimate power. Also, ask questions to determine how well their improvement activities are being shared with all employees.
6. Get employees actively participating in observations, audits, safety rules, close call reporting, and safety suggestions.

Improve your safety systems to create a safer work environment. Along the way, you may find that leadership buy-in and employee participation improves as your systems mature.

In Part 3 of this series, we’ll investigate ways to improve person factors to improve safety culture and performance.