How to build a safety culture in the workplace

Written and published by the British Safety Council, India on 27 April 2020.

Creating a safety culture among your workforce is among the easiest and most sustainable ways to minimize the occurrence of hazardous incidents in your organization. By inculcating safety as a core value in workers, organizations can ensure that everyone actively adheres to safety regulations and practices. Thus, safety becomes an integral part of an organization’s operations, enabling them to:

  • automate the adherence to organizational safety policies
  • reduce the likelihood of injuries and fatalities,
  • mitigate the negative impact and losses when accidents do occur,
  • minimize compliance risks, and
  • be prepared for external health and safety audits.

As a result, safety culture plays a crucial role in ensuring the long-term sustainability of businesses. The recognition of safety as a key contributor to organizational success and sustainability is a prerequisite for the implementation of safety culture. Once there is complete buy-in from the organization’s leaders for incorporating safety into their work culture, they can take the following steps to establish and sustain a safety culture:

Establish clear safety policy and practices

Framing a clear and comprehensive safety policy is the first step towards creating a safety culture. A safety policy emphasizes an organization's commitment to safety and sets the direction for employees on how to act in a safe manner in every situation.

To frame a set of safe practices for every activity in the workplace, it is essential first to perform a comprehensive health and safety audit. These safety audits, performed by qualified safety professionals, involve the inspection of the entire work system to identify the equipment, work methods, and other environmental factors that can lead to health and safety hazards. Businesses that do not possess an experienced safety team can hire international organizations providing safety audit consultancy services for this task. A thorough health and safety audit will help to identify all the risks in a factory and devise remedial measures to eliminate or control them.

Among other things, performing a health and safety audit will enable organizations to identify the safest ways for employees to act as they go about their daily tasks. These safe practices should be integrated into the standard operating procedures of the organization.

Include employees in safety culture initiatives

The purpose of building a safety culture is to ensure the active participation of all employees in making the organization safe. It would make perfect sense, then, to involve employees in all the planning safety initiatives. For instance, safe practices for working should be devised by considering inputs from individuals performing different tasks. Doing so can not only help safety leaders understand the processes and risks in a deeper sense but can also boost the adoption of the safety practices by employees due to a sense of ownership. The best ways for getting employees’ insights on existing practices and inputs on future initiatives are conducting surveys of entire groups of workers or interviewing individuals.

It is also critical for employers to provide easily accessible communication channels to employees to report safety issues or voice their concerns pertaining to safety. This could include setting up a toll-free number, a dedicated email address, or designating a safety officer to address health and safety-related grievances and suggestions.

Communicate the importance of safety

Communication and education is key to building a safety culture in organizations. Employers and safety leaders should constantly emphasize the importance of safety through their communications. In addition to doing the obvious things like organizing safety training and induction programs, businesses should look for other ways to make safety a top-of-mind priority for employees. Employers should undertake safety awareness campaigns on an ongoing basis, and communicate the value of safety to employees as frequently as possible. These communications should emphasize the need for safety from the perspective of the employees so that they see value in following safety practices.

To maximize the effectiveness of safety-related communications, employers should consider personalizing these communications. The outcomes of non-conformance to safety rules should be customized based on their designation, their specific microenvironment, and the risks associated with their specific role. By communicating the need for safety in a personalized manner, businesses can tell individual employees what they stand to gain if they adhere to safety policies and what they can use personally if they fail to do so.

Ensure accountability with health and safety audits

By internally organizing health and safety audits, employers can keep track of their employees’ conformance to established safety standards. Hold individuals, be it a line manager or a labourer, accountable for the adherence to safety guidelines and for any safety-related incidents, including near misses. By making safety audits a recurring part of your standard operations and holding individuals accountable for non-conformance, employers can ensure that adherence to safety norms becomes a natural part of the enterprise operations.

Another way to ensure accountability is by making safe working a part of all employees’ performance evaluation criteria. Employers can do so by taking into account incidents of hazardous incidents, near misses, and instances of non-conformance to safety guidelines while evaluating the performance of all employees. They can even make these evaluations collectively for entire departments and teams so that employees collaboratively follow safe practices.

Building a safety culture in an enterprise can be a challenging endeavour, as it involves bringing about a behavioural change among your employees. It not only requires extensive expertise in health and safety management but also requires experience in change management. We at British Safety Council have helped numerous organizations build safety cultures with our set of practical tools and our expertise in culture change. We can guide and support you through the entire process of building a safety culture, from planning safety initiatives to performing health and safety audits for ensuring sustained change.

You can also get in touch with us for more guidance and support on conducting safety training for your employees or managing a remote workforce.