Workplace accidents happen. So do injuries and illnesses. But at organizations with a clearly established safety culture, the rate of these occurrences is lower than at those without.
Studies have shown that having a strong safety culture can improve the overall safety performance within an organization.
Creating a safe environment is particularly important for industries such as health care, manufacturing and construction, where employee and patient safety is a top priority.
Implementing safety policies, procedures and practices can help prevent occurrences in the workplace. Having defined safety processes, however, doesn’t mean your organization has an established safety culture.
That’s where leadership comes in.
What is safety culture?
Safety culture refers to how employees perceive the importance of safety policies, procedures and practices within the workplace and the extent to which safe behavior is supported and rewarded by leadership.
Employees who believe their work environment is safe have fewer incidents than those who believe it’s dangerous. The stress and anxiety caused by perceived hazards in the workplace have been shown to be a strong contributing factor in increased accident rates.
How does leadership contribute to establishing a safety culture?
Each decision leadership makes concerning the protection of their employees affects employee perceptions of safety—and therefore an organization’s safety culture.
Implementing safety policies, practices and training processes is an important first step in demonstrating leadership’s commitment to creating a safe environment. However, in regard to employee perceptions of safety, leadership’s actions hold more value than their words.
For employees, leadership’s true commitment to safety is most apparent in how they adhere to the processes they implement. These actions are then observed and imitated by employees—for better or worse.
For example, if leadership implements a safety policy only to disregard it in favor of reaching a production goal, employees will do the same, resulting in an elevated number of safety violations and a diminished safety culture.
How do employees perceive safety at your organization?
A culture survey can give you insight into how your employees perceive workplace safety. It’s like an organizational x-ray, giving you a view of your company’s internal structure not visible from the outside.
Identifying employee perceptions is one thing; improving safety culture is another. You need a culture survey that does more than measure employee perceptions of safety. You need a culture survey that can help you identify the barriers to creating a safety culture and establish an action plan to overcome them.
If a culture survey uncovers a discrepancy between employee and leadership perceptions of safety but doesn’t provide insight into what created the discrepancy, you’re left to draw your own conclusions. Is it the safety processes? Is it leadership? Is it everything?
Trying to improve safety culture without knowing the root cause of the issue wastes time and money. Choose a culture survey that constructs a framework for change by identifying the procedural gaps or the behavioral modifications needed to establish a safety culture within your organization.
Safety culture improves overall safety performance.
Leadership plays an important role in establishing a positive safety culture. Their action—or inaction—affects employee perception of safety. And employee perception of safety can make the difference between an accident-prone and an accident-free work environment.