Safety Culture in the Workplace

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Safety Culture in the Workplace
Safety Culture in the Workplace (Image: NIOSH/Flickr.com)

People are surprised when accidents occur, but in reality, many accidents are preventable. A safety culture in the workplace involves everyone to create attitudes, practices and policies that incorporate safety for awareness, prevention and education. Reducing or eliminating accidents saves money for individuals, families and businesses. According to the National Safety Council, injuries in America in 2007 (the most recent year data is available) cost more than $600 billion.

What is a safety culture in the workplace?

A safety culture is made up of shared and accepted attitudes, beliefs and practices supported by documented policies and procedures throughout an organization. It is an atmosphere that shapes safe behaviors and practices. A safety culture takes time to create and results in everyone's commitment to safety as an important part of doing business.

What do accidents really cost?

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, almost 24,000 workers are injured every work day, costing billions every year. People may believe that insurance is for accidents and will cover any costs, but there are many costs, direct and hidden, incurred from accidents and injuries. Direct costs include the cost of the insurance claim and any payments to the injured. Hidden costs can accumulate from paying a temporary replacement employee, costs to investigate and process the accident, insurance premium increases, costs of interruptions in production and "soft" costs to damaged reputation and customer relations. With just one accident with lost workdays and three accidents without lost work days, a workplace with normal annual sales of $46 million incurs $49,000 in expenses, requiring over $1.5 million in sales needed to replace lost profits.

What will a safety culture do in the workplace?

OSHA recommends looking at safety with these four questions:

1.) What is the return on investment of a safety and health program? A safety and health program will produce an increase in morale, reductions in workplace injuries and insurance costs, and a safety culture. Other benefits of a safety culture include enhanced reputation with customers and vendors, industry and community recognition for safe practices, and improved business reputation to attract employees.

2.) How can safety and health become a part of the business? Safety and health can become part of the business by integrating safety and health standards with performance standards, communicating safety and health issues and taking action on them, support from the top, and involving everyone.

3.) What measurements will reflect the business' safety and health success or failure? Measurements to gauge safety success or failure include statistical reports on accident and injury rates and costs, opinion surveys polling what employees think about safety, risk analysis by insurance vendors or outside parties, periodic inspections including self-audits, and process improvements.

4.) What are the best practices for ensuring safety and health program success in the business? The best practices include obtaining management support, creating trust, performing regular self-assessments, creating a system of accountability and measures, incorporating recognition and rewards, providing awareness training, making process changes, continuous measurement, communication of results and celebrations of successes.

Obstacles to Creating a Safety Culture

There are many obstacles to creating a safety culture, but the main obstacles are lack of management support, and fear and lack of trust. Safety must be communicated from the top of an organization down as a priority at least equal to, if not more important than, production and profit. If not, a true commitment to safety will be lacking. Safety culture development must begin with management support and trust. Good communication and implementation facilitate success.

Processes to Create a Safety Culture

A safety culture needs strong top-down support, good communication, established processes and built-in accountability. OSHA recommends defining safety responsibilities throughout the organization, developing measures, teaming management with supervisors and employees through shared safety and health vision and goals, and making everyone accountable for involvement in safety. Safety responsibilities can be written into job descriptions and performance evaluations, accident rates should be recorded and communicated, a safety mission and goal statement can be published, and everyone can be rated on their safety record and involvement.

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