Creating a Workplace Safety Culture to Avoid Accidents
by WordWrite Staff, on Feb. 28, 2013
At WordWrite Communications we believe communication errors or breakdowns are most often the root cause of many crisis situations. Consider the recent miner deaths in West Virginia. Four miners have been killed on the job in the last three weeks—six since November. In response, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed an executive order for "a statewide mine safety stand-down." As part of the stand-down, every coal mining operation in the state has been required to halt operations to honor those who’ve passed and to thoroughly review safety laws and regulations and communications protocols at their workplace.
Having worked for an electric utility—one of the most dangerous industries—I know the importance of safety communications. And, it’s not just the safety of those on the front line, it’s the safety of each and every employee in the organization—from the C-suite to the supply room. Having posters in strategic locations and mandatory training is a start, but it’s not going to create and nurture a culture that respects safety. All safety programs should have communications plans built into them.
Another unfortunate example occurred six months ago when an employee of Export Fuel Co. was crushed by a pavement roller. The company was cited by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for 18 serious safety violations amounting to more than $41,000 in fines. The explanation of the violations focused on the company’s lack of proper training, which ultimately led to the death.
Intentional negligence is rarely the case. Oftentimes companies are so busy and financially strapped that they do the minimum required when it comes to safety and communications. But, that short-sighted thinking and misguided focus on the end result—financials—is what can cause more financial harm in the long run.
What does a safety culture look like and how does a company achieve it? It takes time, persistence and an overall commitment from the top. Safety needs to be top of mind all the time—from the moment the employee gets out of bed in the morning to the minute their head hits the pillow at night. Companies that focus on safety only while at work will never achieve a culture that respects safety. When employees are 100 percent engaged, they incorporate proper safety measures into their homelife and teach their family members to follow suit. It becomes a part of their lifestyle, not something that is switched on and off.
In terms of real tactics, some companies require employees to share a safety message at the start of every meeting or shift. Others have safety goals tied to incentive plans. And others celebrate successes—such as hosting an award luncheon for a period of time without a lost work time injury. Regardless of the specific tactic, successful companies make safety a priority and weave it into everything they do. They involve their communications teams so that consistent messages are shared with all audiences.
No company wants to lose an employee to an accident—whether on the job or not. It is worth the time and financial investment to start creating a safety culture now. Done well, a safety program has no beginning or end and can’t be turned on or off—it’s something that crosses all departments and extends outside the office walls and even into employees’ homes. I’ve heard some safety professionals say, “all accidents are 100 percent preventable.” If all employees in an organization believed that and had all the tools necessary to prevent accidents, we wouldn’t be reading such horrific headlines, like those in West Virginia, anymore and ultimately, productivity and engagement would soar.