In a recent SNIPS article, we discussed improving a safety program and how establishing a safety culture is a good start. So, let’s dive deeper into safety culture by starting with “What is a culture?”  There are many ways to describe or define a “culture,” but it usually includes the morals and core values that the company believes in and follows on a daily basis, often reflected in a mission statement. By their nature, the topics of safety and health are perfect to form a culture since everyone agrees that protecting workers should be a primary goal of a company.

The old way of implementing safety and health on the job was through a safety compliance program. This often included a huge binder of written policies and procedures that sat on the shelf for supervisors to reference when needed and training was basically accomplished through regular toolbox talks. More recently, the focus has evolved into a safety culture with company-wide involvement, often based on continuous improvement and a significant training process.

Small companies should avoid the “zero injury as a goal” culture. By simply stating that “Our goal for the year is zero injuries!”, a company sets themselves up for failure. For example, if a company sets a zero-injury goal on January 1st and then have an injury on January 3rd, they have missed their goal for the year. Then what? It is better to set a culture based on continuous improvement. In this example, the company sets an annual goal of reducing injuries by 10 percent.  Through implementation of their safety and health culture throughout the year, they can now calculate the reduction (or increase) in injuries for the year on December 31st and see how they did in reaching their goal and take appropriate action moving forward.  

Another approach small businesses may consider is focusing on a culture of SPQ - Safety, Productivity, and Quality. In addition to safety, two other issues a small business owner and management need to address are productivity and quality.  Ask any field supervisor and undoubtedly they would agree that a successful project includes excellence in these three critical areas. Working safely while keeping on schedule with minimal “re-work” or taking corrective actions often results in a project that everyone can be proud of. By implementing the culture of continuous improvement mentioned above in these three areas, workers, supervisors, and management can work together to implement policies and procedures that address these three critical areas.

So, where do you stand in developing a culture for your company? Let’s just address one aspect of managing this culture, leadership. From a leadership perspective, when something goes wrong (an injury, a missed deadline, or numerous change orders due to poor workmanship), how does your management team respond? Do you place blame on the workers and just set more goals? Do you recognize employee errors and implement a re-training program? Or do you see the issue as a failure in your system and correct it through a continuous improvement approach? True leaders can recognize the root causes of the errors and take appropriate actions.

As mentioned in the prior article, a culture is not a “one size fits all” action item. Small companies often do not have the time, resources, and knowledge base to identify and implement a complicated safety culture. However, a company culture that addresses safety and health at any level can go a long way to project success. Companies need to be open to ideas and beliefs that reflect their way of doing business, look for opportunities for improvement, and move their existing written programs towards a culture of corporate excellence.