• Leah Norman

Safety Culture

What is it? How do you build it?


It is absolutely true that the tone around safety culture is set from the top.


As we await the introduction of the new and improved Workplace Health and Safety legislation next year, the concept of "safety culture" has begin to gain more attention as we begin to recognise the influence that employees’ attitudes and behaviors have on the causes and effects of workplace incidents.


These attitudes and behaviors are shaped largely by the company’s workplace safety culture and its safety systems. If the management or leadership team give off a vibe that safety is an unnecessary distraction from revenue generation operations, it is likely that this will be reflected in the attitudes and behaviours of the workforce. However, if these same managers and leaders take the time to understand health and safety, and regularly engage with their workforce, suppliers, sub-contractors and the owners of the business on these matters, it is equally likely that their employee's will be more diligent and authentic in how they approach health and safety on a day to day basis.


Good communication in the workplace plays a critical role in achieving safety goals and preventing incidents. When communication throughout all levels of an organisation is strong, open, and meaningful, a positive safety culture follows.


The most positive and developed health and safety cultures in organisations we have seen, have fully integrated all health and safety practices and procedures into their normal day to day operations… it is about creating an environment where safety operations are simply “how things happen around here” and not seen as a ‘bolt on’ to operations. Research shows that companies with a strong safety culture keep employee's engaged and emotionally committed to the organisation and its goals. The best results come from safety initiatives that are focused on more than implementing effective program elements such as employee training, reporting processes, incentive programs, or hazard controls. They’re committed to building safety into every part of their business—letting health and safety prioritization saturate corporate culture and employee behavior at every level.


What is clear is that you can’t implement an effective safety program without building a strong corporate safety culture, and you can’t build a safety culture without fully engaged employees, and to develop engaged employees, you must influence people’s attitudes towards safety. You can only create and sustain results if you learn to understand and manage how employees approach their work. A good place to start is to actually ask the workforce what they think about health and safety.


This can be done using a simple workforce survey or even, in very small businesses, an open discussion.  Work with employees company-wide to establish the reason they want to return home safely at the end of the workday. Why is it important they keep themselves safe on the job?


Make it personal.


Let employees know they are important and you trust them to do the job right every time. Give them the responsibility of safety. Keep them actively engaged in the process and openly discuss changes with them before they occur. One way to do this would be to let employees help you implement and monitor the safety program by creating health and safety committees with responsibilites such as developing SOPs, reviewing incidents, near misses, accident investigation reports, claim summaries and loss analyses to prevent recurrences of similar incidents, promoting employees’ interests in health and safety issues.


You also need to be open to feedback, both positive and critical, and encourage communication from the beginning. Facilitate peer-to-peer feedback to help the team grow, bond, and become receptive to change. Help employees understand each other’s motivations and “whys”. Allow employees, from frontline workers to upper management, to connect with each other to improve communication.


It is incredibly valuable to the business to understand how its people view the safety culture so it can identify risk areas where certain employees may be a higher chance of exhibiting unsafe behaviours and to focus efforts to foster a positive safety culture.


Ten key questions you might want to ask your people include:

  1. Do you feel there are there adequate resources made available to implement health and safety initiatives at work?

  2. Do you feel comfortable about reporting health and safety concerns to management / supervisory personnel?

  3. Do you feel health and safety is important to the directors of the organisation?

  4. Do you feel that health and safety is important to all workers/contractors in the organisation?

  5. Are workers/contractors that do not behave consistently with the documented health and safety requirements are held to account in the organisation?

  6. Are workers/contractors that role-model desirable health and safety practices are recognised in the organisation?

  7. Do you feel the organisation is prepared to respond to a health and safety emergency or crisis at work?

  8. Is health and safety is openly discussed at work across all levels of the organisation?

  9. Do you have confidence in your manager or supervisor to respond to concerns about health and safety at work?

  10. Are our workplace values are reflected in the way personnel behave with regard to health and safety?

The results of these questions can offer excellent insights into how your people feel about health and safety and can help you refine your focus to strengthen health and safety behaviours.


Be careful to avoid exclusively praising results and performance try to make space to praise and acknowledge efforts and initiatives that contribute to safety culture.


Always be positive when communicating with staff. Recognition does not have to be expensive or cumbersome, a positive or supportive word can encourage employees to continue doing things the right, and safe, way.


Improving employee mindset will lead to more engaged workers, the building blocks of a strong safety culture. So, make the most of your health and safety programs and take the time to invest in employee attitude—it’ll pay off down the road.


Disclaimer This article, and any information contained on our website is necessarily brief and general in nature, and should not be substituted for professional advice. You should always seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters addressed.