Magazines are full of predictions for top business trends in 2013. I’m following suit with my own prediction: Companies will increasingly realize the need to create a culture of workplace safety, in 2013 and beyond.
For anyone in doubt, just glance at the news headlines. Across industries—from aviation, mining and tourism to consumer products and oil and gas—safety continually makes news. It proves that no industry is immune to the consequences of safety incidences. In a worst-case scenario, human life is lost, and in better scenarios, companies’ bottom lines suffer immeasurably.
So what does it mean to create a culture of safety?
1. Commitment, not compliance. Many companies continue to believe that if they have standard operating procedures, checklists and safety trainings, that they’ve done their due diligence.
But a culture of safety isn’t about compliance to rules. It isn’t even about making safety a priority. Instead, it’s about true commitment to safety—safety as an embedded and shared value. Why? Because priorities shift, but values don’t.
When safety is a priority, it has to compete with other priorities. Invariably there will be times when employees and managers deem safety less important than getting things done in a hurry. But if safety’s a value, it never loses importance and it never comes in second place. The company and all employees adopt a culture of commitment to safety first, no matter what.
2. Transparency. A culture of safety can’t exist without a work environment where transparency is encouraged, embraced, expected and modeled. People at all levels must feel comfortable communicating their observations and experiences, and management must demonstrate a desire to hear the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. Businesses that have adopted a culture of safety encourage people to talk openly and candidly to surface problems.
3. Ownership at all levels. A culture of safety means ownership of safety at all levels of the organization, from the CEO to the plant floor. Each person recognizes and accepts accountability for their own personal safety and the safety of others.
The transformation process takes time, but it is possible. I’ve worked with global clients that have made it happen. The result?
- Safety as a way of life, for the sake of the workers and the sake of the company
- Improved performance
- Reduced safety incidences
- Better, faster results
- Increased efficiency
- Increased productivity
- Greater transparency
- A culture of accountability, where the buck stops here (and not over there)
In order to create a culture of safety, you must be willing to see your current ways of doing business in a new light.
Have you walked the floor with open eyes to see unsafe practices in action? With fresh eyes and no assumptions, take a walk around your office or plant. Create a list of potential safety issues. There are countless possibilities, like lift truck drivers with no seatbelts and who don’t stop at corners; wet floors; paper cutters that are not locked down; unstable ladders; missing guards; people reaching over moving belt lines; tours being given without safety equipment worn; broken chairs; unstable stacks of products, etc.
Share your list with your direct reports.
Ask for their thoughts in regard to the items on your list, and then ask them what could be done to correct these items. Ask them to create a similar list once a week based on their own observations.
Establish a weekly safety meeting, where everyone shares their lists and the resolutions they’ve implemented. Make safety a priority and expect others to make it a priority as well. Eventually, ask your direct reports to cascade this process by repeating it with their direct reports.
A word of warning: There can be no retribution, punishment or demands as a result of this process, otherwise people won’t participate with transparency. The desired outcomes are learning and improvement of the safety opportunities in your business.
Share the results of your experiment in the comments below or contact the author directly at
DONNA RAE SMITH is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She has forged a career, enterprise and an applied discipline on the practice of teaching leaders to be masters of change. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company with an emphasis on the behavior-side of change. For more than two decades, Donna Rae Smith and the Bright Side team have been recognized as innovators in executing behavioral strategies coalesced with business strategies to accelerate and sustain business results. Bright Side®, The Behavioral Strategy Company, has partnered with over 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, please visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae at
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