We make decisions every day.
You've probably made about a hundred already: whether to get out of bed (chances are you don’t have much of a choice here), whom to avoid and, depending on who you are, the ‘biggie’: what to wear!
Whether we know it or not, our decisions are based on the impression created by the items we pick, and consequently what impressions we want to create.
Think of the things we brag about. Dinner at a swanky new restaurant is a Selfie/ Instagram/ Facebook-worthy event. We share proof of our presence at this posh establishment because it creates an impression of affluence, class and other similarly wonderful tags. We might not readily share a photo of ourselves sweatily digging for finds at the famous Gikomba market. ‘Nothing wrong with second hand clothing, but, you know...’ you might say.
Impressions are important.
This importance extends to the world of safety. The impression your brand or workplace creates with regard to safety is referred to as your safety culture. And just like impressions it can be good (positive) or bad (negative). Again, just like impressions it can make or break you.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the United States (NIOSH) defines safety culture as ‘the characteristics of the work environment, such as norms, rules and common understandings that influence facility personnel’s perceptions of the importance that the organisation places on safety’.
In laymen’s terms, safety culture may be summarised as ‘our way of doing things’.
NIOSH further states, ‘When employers create a positive safety culture, workplace safety and health improve, as do employee morale and workplace productivity.’
So, what does a positive (safety) culture look like?
For starters, safety considerations take precedence over everything. Any changes likely to have a negative impact on safety are reviewed and revised until suitable alternatives are found. Not only that, but there exists a process to facilitate the continuous identification and neutralisation of threats to safety. Needless to say, opportunities for the improvement of existing safety structures are also continuously sought and exploited.
Another hallmark of a positive culture is the obvious dedication of the management team to safety. This is evident in their speech, decisions and conduct. To support this, safety responsibilities have been trickled down to the individual level. All staff have a personal obligation for safety. And of course, in such an organisation, an atmosphere of freedom has been created, where employees can freely express their concerns without fear of victimisation.
Status check: as a chief executive, can your employees confidently correct you when you behave in an unsafe manner? If yes, chances are you have a positive culture.
What lies on the other side of this coin?
As expected, organisations with a negative culture would display the opposite of what we have discussed above. Workers in such establishments often face pressure to circumvent safety requirements in order to meet targets. Safety is not a priority. It is not uncommon for personnel to be ‘persecuted’ for speaking out about unsafe conditions and behaviour. Respect and trust are foreign concepts in such environments.
It should be noted however, that a safety culture may not always fall neatly into the ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ baskets. There are times when an organisation’s culture will fall somewhere in between, depending on what elements of the safety system need attention.
Though it may take some time to create, a positive safety culture is not out of your reach. Here are a few approaches you may employ to achieve this.
Involve everyone. When establishing the safety system be sure to provide a platform for all staff to air their views. Workers will be more inclined to respect a system that they helped build.
Lead well. The organisation’s leaders must be the champions of the implementation effort. Safety systems that focused on forcing workers to comply with rules while managers appeared to flout them, failed miserably.
Celebrate. Workers seen to uphold the company’s safety standard should be recognised. This will encourage others to do the same. Achievements such as improved safety performance should be celebrated. The acknowledgment need not be costly or showy, a simple word of encouragement will do. And guess what, personnel themselves may have great ideas for simple gifts. As we said, involve everyone!
Investigate. When things go wrong, as they are wont to do, do not lay blame at anyone’s door. Instead, investigate all incidents thoroughly and arrive at root causes. Let these be opportunities to learn and avoid recurrences. Again, involve everyone!
Safety central. Safety should be at the centre of your operations. From supplier selection to job descriptions, safety should feature everywhere. This will send a clear message that safety is important to the organisation, and workers will do their part.
Give it time. It is advisable to break your safety dream into ‘bite-size’ chunks and allow time for its execution. Once in a while take a step back and take a look back- see how far you have come, and map the way forward.
As we usher in 2018, why don’t you make this one of your company’s resolutions for the New Year?