With deadlines to meet, customers to please, and budgets that can often be tight at best, safety can easily take a back seat to cheaper, faster short-cuts. Anyone who has ever dealt with the aftermath of an on-the-job accident or fatality will be the first to attest that not only should safety be in the front seat, it should be the driver.
The advantages of not just making safety a priority, but creating a full-fledged culture of safety in a company are too great to count. Creating such a work environment takes investments of time, money, training, and practice—but in a big picture scenario, creating a safety culture will not only add money to the bottom line, it will ensure that all employees go home to their families every night.
Do the Research
There’s a saying among some tradesmen that safety shouldn’t be a priority, it should be a value. The reason being is that priorities shift and change, while values are steadfast, ethical beliefs. Anyone can list their priorities, but values are demonstrated through consistent actions and behaviors.
With that in mind, a company interested in building a strong and sustainable safety culture needs to first do their research. By studying companies that have impeccable (if not close to it) safety records, that comply religiously with OSHA standards, invest in training programs, and set rules and guidelines with safety at the forefront, they will be able to lay the groundwork of what their own programs need to be successful. A quick internet search can provide lists of the safest companies in America, and why they are rated as such, which is a great place to get started.
Once thorough research has been completed, a company should take their findings and make an honest comparison of their own practices against those that have top safety ratings. Where do they align? Where are the areas of opportunity? By identifying weaknesses, those weaknesses can be addressed and fixed. The problem has to be known if change is going to happen. For some companies, it may be worth having a consultant come in and conduct an assessment on their behalf. Whatever it takes to have an honest assessment so the work to make it better can begin.
Safety Makes Cents
Shortcuts save time and money. If everything works out, that is. On those occasions when things go wrong, however, shortcuts cost not only a lot of money, but are taxing on emotional and physical well-being as well. Ask any company manager or CEO that had to make a call to a family member of their employee that was injured or killed on-the-job—chances are, they would much rather invest all of the their money in a safety program than make that phone call. The cost is immeasurable.
For that reason, it’s important that there is complete buy-in from all employees that safety is the undisputed expectation. From the CEO, to the accountant, to the administrative assistant, and especially the tradesman, there needs to be a clear demonstration that the only way to do the job is the safe way to do the job.
A practice in place by the top rated safety companies is an open two-way communication link. This allows the company safety expectations to be delivered to all employees from the top down, and all perceived safety problems, violations, or even questions to extend from the bottom up. Allowing employees on-the-job to voice concerns without fear of being reprimanded is imperative to the success of a culture of safety. If employees feel safe to communicate, their work place will inherently become safer.
Training: A Safe Bet
The secret and necessary ingredient to creating a culture of safety is an obvious one, but often neglected: training. The thing about training is, it takes time, effort, and money to be done properly. The return on investment for providing a well curated and delivered training initiative however, is potentially invaluable—it can save countless lives.
Not all training is considered equal. Invest in a training consultant or company that is accredited or reputable with the Department of Labor. Ensure that they have subject matter experts on staff, are not only knowledgeable but have real-world experience in a relevant trade, and have training specialists or instructors that will have a rapport with employees.
Additionally, creating an on-going training program is imperative. OSHA is expanding and changing workplace rules all of the time, and refresher training is necessary to stay on-top of new regulations. Trade practices are adjusting to new tools and innovations at a rapid rate as well. Keeping employees well informed and in tune with the safest practices possible will allow for not only less accidents on-the-job, but could mean more productive work-sites as well. A well-informed, well-trained employee will be more likely to report poor work practices or OSHA violations, streamlining a company’s ability to get to the root of a problem much quicker and avoid a time-consuming, expensive accident.
Practice Makes Perfect
Investing time and money into research and training will see a return on investment if and only if safety standards are put into practice every day. Before a crew goes to work in the morning, a safety meeting or tailboard should be conducted. Before a crew goes home in the evening, a safety debriefing should take place. This not only helps to create awareness of safe practices, it helps to create a habit of safety on-the-job.
Aside from the work-site, safety conversations should be happening in conference and board rooms as well. Executive and leadership staff should have visibility and expressed interest in safety practices, be rewarding crews and individuals for creating and nurturing safe work environments, and providing the means of communication from the ground up for employees to report safety concerns and violations. If the company leadership isn’t walking the walk and talking the talk, it’s guaranteed that mid and lower level leadership won’t be either.
A company should set an expectation of safety, commit to that expectation, and practice it every single day. With demonstrated practice of safety expectations, safety evolves from a priority to a value, and from a value to a culture.
Initially, making an investment into creating a culture of safety in a company seems like it can be potentially too time-consuming and expensive. Put into practice, however, it quickly becomes obvious that the return on investing in safety is invaluable. By conducting the research, providing proper and on-going training, and putting into practice safety rules and expectations that are adhered to from the top down, a company can create an engaging and safe culture that all will benefit from. Eventually the bottom line will start to grow—but more importantly, on-the-job accidents will decrease and more employees will return home safely every night.