No two companies are alike. Nonetheless, companies with excellent workplace safety records tend to have a few things in common. They don’t worry about regulatory fines or astronomical legal fees, for instance. They also tend to pay lower-than-average workers’ compensation insurance premiums.
Where the similarities matter most, however, are not in what these companies have achieved, but how they’ve achieved it. An exceptional safety record doesn’t happen by accident. In almost all cases, it’s the result of strategic planning, a commitment to safety, and the right habits—a combination of actions and attitudes adopted by people up, down, and across the organization.
In other words, wherever there are few or no incidents, there’s a strong safety culture. And like sustainable ecosystems or winning sports teams, all safety cultures share a few basic elements:
1. Dedication to a Goal to Improve Employee Health and Safety
Safe companies put their EHS initiatives in writing. They frequently start—as Schneider, Alcoa, and Bayer did—by setting a goal of zero workplace injuries. That goal may sound unrealistic, and merely establishing it doesn’t change anything, but it does provide a shape, a direction, and a set of key performance indicators for the hard work ahead. Safe companies aren’t deterred by the effort it may take to reduce incidents. And they know the only way to get there is to define what “there” looks like.
2. Adherence to a Safety Policy Within the Company and Its Supply Chain
Safe companies create EHS policies and stick to them. If a zero-injury goal is the “why,” policies are the “how.” Without them in place, there’s no way to consistently ensure and measure proper workplace behaviors. From injury prevention to accident reporting, from equipment checks to hazard communication, effective policies cover as many departments, job functions, scenarios, and variables as possible—and they’re followed by workers at every stage in the supply chain.
3. Support for the Employee Health and Safety Team
Safe companies know that words on paper alone don’t change behaviors. That’s why they frequently build EHS teams and designate specific roles within those teams. Team members may include one or more safety managers, supervisors, officers, coordinators, advisors, and/or regulatory liaisons, as well as outside legal and risk management consultants. Whatever the team looks like—however small or large—it’s only effective if it remains active and garners support from all levels of the organization.
4. Formalized Health and Safety Training for Executives or Key Employees
Safe companies educate and empower their key personnel to become workforce safety leaders. That means everyone engages in the in-depth, ongoing EHS training they need to do their jobs (and make sure others do theirs) properly. In a strong safety culture, workers undergo training in overall EHS policies and procedures as well as any rules specific to their jobs, sites, and equipment. And when regulations, standards, and technologies change, the company institutes new training to keep workers up to date.
5. Use of a Health and Safety Management System
Finally, safe companies stand out for what they don’t do. They don’t leave EHS management up to a single individual. They don’t try to coordinate everything with binders and spreadsheets. Instead, they use technology to ensure compliance, control risk, and monitor organizational performance. By harnessing a health and safety management system, any organization can minimize busywork, close gaps, eliminate uncertainty, and ultimately stimulate better EHS outcomes. Think of it as the backbone of an effective safety culture.
As we alluded to earlier, it can take a lot of work to nurture a safety culture and keep it alive. You don’t have to change everything at once. Instead, focus on adopting just a few essential habits: setting safety goals, adhering to policies, supporting your safety team, training your key employees, and using a system to manage it all.
Why not start today?