Organizational safety communication is a key litmus test for healthy (or unhealthy) safety cultures. Safety communication should flow freely and frequently both up and down and across the organization(s). This includes an ongoing feedback loop of getting, addressing, and reporting back improvements from safety suggestions and concerns. Improving organizational safety communication is significantly related to lower incidents and injuries (Beus et al., 2011) and interventions designed to promote greater organizational feedback reduce hazard frequencies by 60% (Sulzer-Azaroff and de Santamaria, 1980).
There are no shortcuts to safety culture improvement. However, if there was a safety culture ‘hack’ it would be getting and using more employee input for safety. One of the best ways of doing this is through safety suggestions from front-line employees. Many of the best and most practical safety ideas come from front-line employees. Getting and using employee feedback is smart business and it’s good for safety. Systems should be in place to both formally (e.g., peer checks, safety committees) and informally (1-1 conversations) solicit employees’ safety recommendations. Getting more employee input leads to better decision-making and increased front-line discretionary effort for safety.
Unlike the old “command and control” engineering approaches, HP emphasizes the importance of improving environmental contingencies to encourage safe work practices. Error-likely situations are predictable, manageable, and preventable. Most incidents are influenced by system factors like confusing procedures, excessive production pressure, faulty tools/equipment, insufficient personnel, and ineffective training. When SIFs occur, workers trigger latent conditions that already exist in systems, processes, procedures, and expectations. These conditions lay dormant until all the wrong events align perfectly to create gaps in worker protection. High reliability organizations have effective defenses to mitigate the influence of human error and error precursors. Safety should not be viewed as the absence of events but rather the presence of solid, consistent defenses against human error.
Effective safety leadership is essential to improve safety culture and prevent incidents. Strong safety leadership commitment is significantly related to lower incidents and injuries (Christian et al., 2011 and Beus et al., 2010). Effective safety leaders: Emphasize safety as much as production and quality, both formally (e.g., meetings) and informally. Always consider safety when making organizational decisions. Communicate the importance of safety as frequently as possible. Recognize that a failure to “walk the talk” for safety leads to employee resentment for safety. Advertise safety improvements and successes. Hold supervisors accountable for supporting safety. Increase personal visibility on the floor to discuss safety (and other) issues with employees. Institutionalize employee input (e.g., safety suggestion programs) for safety. Ensure identified safety hazards are corrected quickly. Focus on proactive safety efforts not just injury outcome statistics.
High employee participation in safety is critical for improving safety culture and SIF prevention. Engaged employees are 5 times less likely than unengaged employees to have a safety incident and 7 times less likely to have a lost-time safety incident (Vance, 2006). Employees should be actively involved in bringing up safety issues, suggestions, and concerns. Employees should also be regularly consulted with key safety decisions like policy updates, equipment selection, and scheduling considerations. Organizations that promote psychological safety and a learning culture will experience significantly higher levels of safety participation and buy-in.
BBS has been successfully used to improve safety culture and performance for decades (Williams, 2010; Geller, 1996). BBS checklists are an effective means to identify and reinforce safe actions along with noting and addressing at-risk behaviors. Immediate feedback is provided to the employee and group data is analyzed to determine behavioral trends in various locations. In addition to being highly diagnostic and informative, the ongoing process of identifying and addressing key issues provides something most safety programs can’t deliver: sustainability. Rather than training being a “one and done” exercise, BBS provides a foundation and system for ongoing improvement efforts.
Incident analyses should be comprehensive with a focus on improving systems and processes for future incident prevention. The process should be through and compassionate. Special emphasis should be on the potential for serious injuries and fatalities (SIF). Blame should not be associated with the process. About half (55%) of a company's ability to learn from failures can be explained by whether or not employees feel psychologically safe (Carmeli & Gittell, 2008). Effective information sharing and incident analysis practices are significantly related to lower incidents and injuries (Wachter & Yorio, 2014).
Effective safety training is a cornerstone of employee development and safety culture success. This training should be interactive and engaging. Both technical and soft-skills should be addressed at all organizational levels. Companies with robust safety training programs have 24% fewer injuries compared with those who do not (Waehrer and Miller, 2009).
Improving close call (i.e., near hit, near miss) reporting helps prevent future serious injuries in organizational settings. OSHA and the National Safety Council define a near miss as “An unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness or damage – but had the potential to do so.” (Morrison, 2014). For instance, skidding off the side of the road in icy conditions is a close call. Slamming into a tree after doing so is an incident. About half (55%) of a company's ability to learn from errors can be explained by whether or not employees feel psychologically safe (Carmeli & Gittell, 2008).
For years, organizational leaders have used incentives to try and motivate safety. The rationale is that providing financial rewards for not getting hurt will motivate employees to “try harder” for safety. In reality, this often encourages non-reporting which is why OSHA now discourages outcome-based incentives. Plus, people are already motivated to avoid injury. Effective incentives, if used, should focus on proactive safety behaviors and efforts. Rewards should be symbolic and safety themed. Genuine appreciation and recognition trump all other incentives. Take the quiz below to see how well you’re managing safety incentives.
Effective communication is the cornerstone of a healthy safe production culture. This is particularly important with one-on-one conversations with employees. Employees who feel listened to and appreciated are more likely to go beyond the call of duty for safety and other organizational efforts. Effective communicators demonstrate genuine caring, promote psychological safety, actively listen, and provide recognition regularly. How strong are your safety communication skills? Take the quiz below to find out.
Does your organization reinforce a culture of reporting or is there some fear (or hassle) associated with close call events? The answer to that question is a great litmus test for your overall safe production culture. The purpose of reporting close calls (and minor injuries) is to promote a learning culture and avoid serious injuries in the future. Close call reporting, when done correctly, is a powerful tool to improve safety culture and prevent serious injuries and fatalities. How well does your organization manage close call reporting? Take the following quiz and find out.
Organizational leaders are increasingly turning to Human Performance (HP) principles to improve safety culture and prevent SIFs. HP emphasizes the importance of improving environmental contingencies to encourage safe work practices. In other words, fix the system to improve safety and don’t blame employees following incidents. Basic HP tenants include (Williams & Roberts, 2018): See details in the link below. Do your leaders incorporate human performance elements to improve safety culture and prevent SIFs? Take this quiz and find out.
Improving safety culture is vital to long term performance excellence. Organizations with weak or underdeveloped safety cultures typically find that incident rates unexpectedly fluctuate without apparent rhyme or reason. Leaders in these organizations struggle for sustained reductions in incidents, property damage, and injuries. Forward thinking leaders are continually searching for ways to advance safety culture and prevent serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs). Take the following quiz and find out.