Best Practices for Safety Culture: Examples from the Field
By Josh Williams, Ph.D.
Improving safety culture should be an ongoing quest. Leaders need to seek continuous safety improvement as an internal obligation. Previous blogs have addressed key components of safety culture to prevent SIFs. This blog will detail best practices from real-world examples that leaders may consider using in their own operations.
Safety Culture Best Practices:
Employee Input with Rules
Managers and supervisors at one Pennsylvania steel mill were concerned about compliance problems with lock-out/tag-out (LOTO) procedures. Rather than immediately threatening employees to comply, managers went around and spoke with hourly employees running the equipment. They found out the LOTO procedures were overly complicated and the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for LOTO were written for engineers, not hourly employees. To solve this problem, they brought in engineers, safety professionals, supervisors, and hourly employees to collectively streamline the LOTO process and revise the SOPs with user-friendly language. Overnight, the LOTO issue became a non-issue. This was less a compliance issue and more of a ‘talk to your people’ issue.
Getting more input from the people doing the work leads to more practical (and sometimes streamlined) procedures that they’re more likely to follow.
Minor Injury Reporting
An associate in a packaging department cut her hand when she reached in a trash can to retrieve a piece of paper she had thrown away. She cut her hand on a discarded retractable blade (from a box cutter) someone had tossed in the trashcan. Employees routinely discarded these blades (which would sometimes snap off) in nearby trash cans. After reporting the minor injury, the company set up durable lockboxes to collect the discarded blades. If not, another employee may have experienced the same injury or a more serious laceration/amputation.
Encouraging minor injury (and close call) reporting in a non-threatening facilitates open reporting and helps prevent future, and possibly more serious, injuries in the future.
Active Caring Messaging vs Statistics Alone
In one very powerful safety presentation, a manager showed a slide of a young man with his wife and two kids. The manager gave details about the man including job position, education, hobbies etc. He then told the audience that the young man was killed the previous week in a fall of about 80 feet off an oil derrick (not tied off). No graphs or statistics were needed to reinforce the importance of safety. While this approach may not work for all, it’s important to remember that overloading employees with safety statistics is no substitute for demonstrating authentic caring about their safety.
Leaders need to remember that safety statistics should be used to supplement genuine discussions and testimonials about employees’ safety.
At a bearing facility in Southwest Virginia, the safety manager was tasked with purchasing safety signs and banners for the organization. Rather than shop for posters, he had an innovative idea. He chose to set up a competition for employees to design their own signs and pay the top three winners as voted on by their peers. Prizes were given out for first ($100), second ($50) and third place ($25). Employees were two hours in one of the main conference rooms and were given flip chart pages and markers/crayons to design their posters. They were allowed to make as many posters as they wanted to for the contest. In the end, the winning employee was a maintenance worker who drew Forrest Gump running down the road carrying a box of chocolates and wearing safety glasses and other PPE under the caption, “Safety IS as Safety DOES.” Completed posters were hung around the facility and were highly effective in getting employees’ attention.
In another example, a large mining company in West Virginia was struggling to increase employee participation in filling out environmental audits and behavioral observation cards. In response, the company decided to donate ten cents to the local Boys’ Club for all completed cards. Within six months, the company had raised nearly $20,000 and participation rates had tripled. Special programs focused on community service and family can be highly effective in increasing employee engagement for safety.
Getting employee input with proactive, behavioral incentives is fun and likely leads to better reward programs.
Forward-thinking organizations emphasize wellness programs to promote employee health and safety. One biotech company in California conducts regular safety fairs where employees go with their families to eat healthy food, receive back and foot massages, and get various health checks completed (e.g., blood pressure tests, cholesterol checks). This organization also has a state-of-the-art gymnasium with incentives for employees to use it. They also pipe in new-age music every couple of hours so employees can stop what they’re doing and do light stretching for two to three minutes to combat fatigue and repetitive motion injuries. Not surprisingly, this company has high employee involvement for safety and very few injuries (which continue to decline).
Investing in employees through wellness and other programs leads to happier and healthier employees.
To formalize mentoring, an energy company in Tennessee implemented a “buddy for a week” system. Essentially, experienced employees (with high job knowledge and good attitudes for safety) spent one week with newer employees working together, eating together etc. This process improved rapport between newer and older employees and provided a great way for experienced employees to pass on specific craft knowledge in a direct, hands-on way. They also learned a few new things from the younger employees.
Mentoring should be encouraged both formally and informally to help newer employees adapt more quickly (and safely) to their jobs, ensure key information is shared, and improve group cohesion.
Call to Action
What can you learn from these examples? Consider ways can apply these lessons learned in your organization to promote safety culture and improve safety performance.
Read more from this blog series: “Not so Best” Practices for Safety Culture: Examples from the Field