Safety Culture: Values, Beliefs, and Actions
By Jamie Hall
Workplace culture is often described as “the way we do things around here.” When combined with safety, however, culture is much more involved.
Safety culture is easy to talk about, but hard to describe. You often know when you have a good one, but it is difficult to describe why it is good. I have said that we need “to put handles” on safety culture, so that we can grab it, examine it and figure out how it works. At SAFE Work Manitoba, we have been working hard “to put handles” on safety culture to give workplaces some practical tools to understand and improve theirs.
Employers play an important role
One of SAFE Work Manitoba’s strategic goals is to champion a culture of safety and health in our province, where all Manitobans share values and beliefs that support workplace injury and illness prevention. We do this together with industry-based safety programs, like manufacturing’s Made Safe in Manitoba.
Employers play an important role in achieving this goal. Employers who actively work to promote a culture of safety put a priority on clear communication, safety programming and reinforcement of safety expectations. These employers recognize safety and health as both a legal obligation and an effective business practice, not a cost.
Values and beliefs guide safety culture
Working with our partners, we have developed this definition, which we think will help guide our efforts to ensure a strong and sustained safety culture – across the province – for generations to come: A positive safety culture exists when a set of shared values and beliefs about workplace safety and health influences and drives practices for preventing workplace injuries and illnesses.
First of all, there are values and beliefs that underpin a strong safety culture.
In a strong safety culture, people value and expect a safe and healthy workplace, people in the workplace are considered to be the most valuable resource, and safety and health are valued along with productivity, quality, and pay.
In a strong safety culture, people believe workplace injuries and illnesses can be prevented, leaders drive improvement, and everyone plays a part in building safe and healthy workplaces.
Values and beliefs are only part of the picture. These values and beliefs must influence our actions and practices in order to become part of our culture.
An example of safety culture in our province is seatbelt use. Try to think of the last time you consciously thought about buckling up your seatbelt. It’s been some time for me. Now, most of us automatically reach for it every time we get in the car.
This automatic action wasn’t always the case. There was a time when cars didn’t even have seatbelts. There was a time that seatbelt use wasn’t required by law, but through a long effort of legislative changes, awareness promotion, enforcement, and peer pressure, we have a positive and sustained change; a shift in our safety culture where people value and believe in seatbelt safety.
I see evidence of a strong safety culture in workplaces and I’m sure you do, too. It’s the worker who automatically puts on a hard hat, clips in a lanyard, tests for voltage or locks out a machine. It’s the desk worker who takes time throughout the day to get up, stretch, and walk to offset the effects of sitting. It’s the supervisor who praises a worker for raising a safety concern, initiates a discussion about the hazards of a work task, or embraces the results of a safety audit or inspection as a means to continuously improve the safety and health of their workers. It’s those willing to do things the safe way instead of taking a short cut. Constant actions like these inspire others to adopt these same practices and fortify the workplace’s safety culture.
Adopting workplace safety culture
At SAFE Work Manitoba, we believe establishing and maintaining a strong safety culture should be an important goal for all Manitobans and Manitoba workplaces – it shouldn’t be a complicated process.
More and more we are seeing safety and health embedded in educational institutions and provincial leaders supporting and investing in safety and health. We are also seeing our laws and standards become more practical and innovative, and enforcement used more effectively in maintaining a minimum standard of practice. I believe, in many ways, we will see the public expecting safety and health in the workplace as a community norm.
To build a strong safety culture we must emphasize underlying values and beliefs surrounding safety and health in workplaces and in Manitoba society. Then, we must use this as a foundation to guide our actions and practices. In this way, we can reduce injuries today and prevent them for generations to come.
I encourage you to visit safemanitoba.com/safetyculture to learn more about safety culture in Manitoba and discover ways to improve the safety culture in your workplace. For manufacturing-specific safety and health information in Manitoba, please visit Made Safe at madesafe.ca
Jamie Hall is the Chief Operating Officer of SAFE Work Manitoba. He is part of a team of people who are passionate about changing the landscape of safety in order to realize significant improvements in safety performance in Manitoba.