A riddle: What does safety culture have in common with obscenity? It’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Or, more often, you know it by its absence.
Take Amazon for instance: In the interest of maximizing productivity they squeeze every last ounce out of their workforce, with constantly escalating fulfillment metrics to be reached and bathroom breaks penalized. This is the reason Bezos can afford to fly to space, but it’s also the reason Amazon has an annual turnover rate of 150%. (Author’s note: I am a filthy hypocrite who regularly orders from Amazon, but we’ll explore that capitalist crisis of conscience in another blog.)
So What Is Safety Culture Anyway?
Now that we all have a clear picture of what safety culture isn’t, let’s explore what it is, and why you want it.
Safety culture is the shared values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that an organization or a group of people exhibit when it comes to safety. It is the collective mindset and approach towards safety that everyone in the organization or group adopts, including their attitudes towards identifying and mitigating risks, responding to incidents, and continually improving safety performance.
A positive safety culture is characterized by
- a strong commitment to safety
- open communication
- active participation in safety initiatives
- continuous improvement
This culture prioritizes safety over other concerns – timelines, budgets, pressure from stakeholders – and everyone takes responsibility for maintaining a safe environment.
On the other hand, a negative safety culture is characterized by complacency, resistance to change, a lack of communication, and a disregard for safety protocols. Such a culture can lead to increased incidents and accidents, as well as decreased morale and productivity.
Developing a positive safety culture requires ongoing effort and commitment from everyone in the organization or group. It involves implementing safety programs, providing training and education, encouraging open communication, and promoting a culture of accountability and continuous improvement.
Seven Benefits of Building Your Safety Culture:
1. Increased productivity
It might feel counterintuitive, but implementing safety processes is a great example of the “move slow to move fast” rule of systems organization. Taking time before beginning work to allow for training, hazard mapping, safety planning, and communication will save time in the long run. A positive safety culture improves productivity by reducing injuries and illnesses, leading to fewer absences and more time spent on productive work.
A few case studies:
Alcoa is a global aluminum manufacturer that prioritizes safety in its operations. In the 1980s, the company implemented a new safety program that focused on changing the culture around safety. The program involved empowering employees to take ownership of safety, providing regular training, and creating a culture of continuous improvement. As a result, Alcoa saw a significant reduction in workplace injuries, and productivity increased by over 500%.
DuPont is a chemical manufacturing company that has a strong commitment to safety culture. In the 1990s, the company implemented a new safety program called “STOP” (Safety Training Observation Program) that focused on empowering employees to identify and report hazards in the workplace. The program led to a significant reduction in workplace injuries and increased productivity by over 200%.
2. Improved employee morale
A culture of safety can create a sense of unity and shared responsibility among employees, improving their morale and job satisfaction.
A few case studies:
Chevron is an energy company that places a strong emphasis on safety culture. The company’s “Operational Excellence Management System” focuses on empowering employees to identify and mitigate risks, and to report incidents without fear of retaliation. This has led to a significant reduction in workplace injuries, and employees report feeling valued and supported by the company’s commitment to safety.
JetBlue is an airline company that has a strong commitment to safety culture. The company’s “Safety Management System” emphasizes the importance of safety in all aspects of the business, and encourages employees to report hazards and incidents without fear of retaliation. As a result, JetBlue has one of the lowest accident rates in the airline industry, and employees report feeling proud to work for a company that prioritizes safety.
3. Better financial performance
A series of studies examined companies who achieved a culture of health, safety, and well-being, garnering awards such as:
- the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’s (ACOEM)
- Corporate Health Achievement Award (CHAA)
- the C. Everett Koop (Koop) National Health Award
- the Gallup Great Workplace Award
- being recognized as a high-scoring Health Enhancement Resource Organization (HERO) company
These organizations demonstrated superior stock indicators, outperforming the S&P 500 Index by 2.35 to 1.00 and experiencing a 155% growth in earnings per share (EPS) compared with 27% EPS in competitors.
4. Better employee retention
Employees are more likely to stay with an organization that prioritizes their safety and well-being, leading to better retention rates. A survey of over 6000 truck drivers in the US revealed the drivers with a positive perception of their company’s safety climate reported a higher level of job satisfaction and engagement, and higher likelihood of staying with their company.
5. Enhanced reputation
A strong safety culture can improve an organization’s reputation and brand image, attracting customers and investors who value safety and ethical practices. Companies recognize that their reputation is crucial to their success, and a negative safety incident can damage their brand image and cause long-term harm to their reputation. A 2018 global survey of 30,000 customers showed that 65% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company that treats its workers well. On the other side of the coin, 47% would walk away from a company if they read negative coverage about its actions toward employees.
6. Reduced costs
Implementing a culture of safety can result in cost savings, such as reduced insurance premiums, workers’ compensation costs, and legal fees associated with workplace accidents. The National Safety Council pegged the average cost per worker compensation claim at $41,353 in 2019-2020.
7. Improved communication
A positive safety culture promotes open communication among employees and between employees and management, leading to better collaboration, problem-solving, and decision-making.
8. Increased innovation
When employees feel safe and valued, they are more likely to share their ideas and take risks, leading to increased innovation and creativity in the workplace.