Why Create a Safety Culture?
Most workplace accidents stem from some type of unsafe behavior: whether it’s inattention, improper posture or improper use of safety equipment. Compliance with regulatory requirements alone seldom makes a real dent in your safety record. For example, if you pattern a safety program on OSHA safety and reporting requirements alone, using them as a benchmark to discipline workers who violate them, your safety program will be only tenuously related to safe workplace behaviors and ineffective at reducing accident levels. But creating a “safety culture” that tackles the attitudes, beliefs and values that govern behaviors related to safety—such as what motivates employees to be safe—will lead to an increase in safer behaviors overall.
Creating a corporate safety culture means investing resources, time and personnel into a vigorous occupational health and safety program that wins cooperation at all levels of the company. It looks at employee motivation by asking questions such as: what do workers get from an investment in safety? What needs do unsafe behaviors serve? Do employees feel responsible for what happens at work? Do they take too many risks—especially in response to management requests for speedier production or to make up for being understaffed? Does the company send conflicting signals by rewarding unsafe behaviors when they raise production and punishing them when they cause injury?
Persuasion vs. Punishment
Experts say that worker involvement in safety is proportional to the degree of management understanding, involvement and communication. In fact, worker involvement is as critical to your work safety program as it is to the production process itself. Without a genuine interest in working safely, safety manuals, training sessions and videos will have very little effect on employee work methods. Management lip service to safety via slogans, posters and dry safety meetings that don’t generate actual improvements in working conditions conveys a lack of understanding and commitment to safety.
But simply punishing unsafe behaviors won’t work either, because the punishments may backfire, leading workers to continue the unsafe behavior while working harder to hide it from supervisors. Punishment can also give rise to frustration and aggression, leading employees who’ve been punished to reduce output, do substandard work, become careless with products and materials or initiate conflicts with coworkers and supervisors. Increasing rewards and positive reinforcement for safe behavior can help your safety program achieve the results you want.