Health and Safety Programs Canada: How to Create a Safety Culture
One of the most important responsibilities of any employer is to make sure that their workers do not get ill, injured or killed on the job. And one of the best ways that an employer can meet this responsibility is to build a positive safety culture within their organization. Doing so has been shown to dramatically reduce the rate of workplace illness, injury and death and is a key component of Health and Safety Programs in Canada.
What is a safety culture?
To a considerable degree, an organization’s safety culture is a manifestation of the values of its leadership and the health and safety policies established for the organization that reflect those values. That said, safety culture is not something imposed from the top down. Though rank and file employees are expected to instill health and safety values of leadership, they have their own health and safety interests at heart and are not passive players in the creation of a safety culture.
Assessing the safety culture within an organization is not best done by examining safety policies and programs. Rather, it’s best done by observing how health and safety programs are implemented in the workplace, which generally paints a clear picture about the mindsets and behaviors towards safety of all company stakeholders—employees, managers, and owners. If work is done without implementing safety practices that stem from a strong health and safety program, a positive safety culture needs to be instilled.
Fundamental to creating a safety culture in an organization is having leadership walk the talk with regards to health and safety practices. They need to demonstrate in everything they do that they value the importance of safety in the workplace. Doing so builds trust, accountability and adherence to regulations.
Another way to build trust is for leadership to maintain open lines of communication with employees on the topic of safety. This not only means consistently delivering safety messages, but addressing concerns voiced by employees—and creating an environment in which workers feel comfortable about expressing their views on safety.
All workers need to know that, for their own benefit, safety inspections can happen at any time—and that they can be prepared for them by never wavering from safety protocol. In a workplace with a positive safety culture, safety inspections are embraced, not feared.
When dangerous situations arise
When workers face a situation where danger is imminent they need to know that leadership has their back when they respond proactively to prevent injury or death. They need to know that they are trusted to use their own judgement in such scenarios—that their proactivity will be respected and that their ideas on how to prevent the danger from arising again will be thoroughly considered. This is what happens in an organization with a positive safety culture.
Workers also need to know that when they have safety concerns but the danger is not imminent that they can approach their immediate supervisor to talk about the problem—and that if this supervisor does not remedy it, they can go higher up the chain of command without fear of reprisal. Of course, it behooves workers in such situations not to simply complain or lay blame but to suggest solutions. Further, workers need to know that if the employer does not address their concerns at any level the complaint process to OHSA is available to them. Employers must ensure this.
Summary on creating a positive safety culture
An ongoing dialogue between employer and employees on the value of and strategies for realizing workplace safety is vital. Safety meetings must be consistently scheduled and treated seriously. Joint Health and Safety Committees (JHSCs) are a very effective tool for promoting a positive and safe culture in the workplace and there should be links to them in the workplace calendar.
Employers need to train their employees to know the causes and effects of hazards in the workplace and to get employees integrally involved in implementing safe work practices. The entire organization must be committed to this. Safe job procedures should be provided to each worker and be included in the organization’s worker orientation program.