Fact Sheet

Characteristics of Safety Culture

Introducing change within an organization can be challenging. Effective and lasting change generally comes about when the chief elected official and senior management not only commit to adopting safety as a top priority, but at the same time provide compelling evidence that change must be made now. Evidence is usually provided as the amount of money accidents are costing the entity.

Change comes about more quickly when the reward structure is changed to compensate those managers, departments, employees whose behavior contributes to safety goals. Similarly, immediate and meaningful consequences need to be applied when careless behavior or negligence causes an accident or injury.

Just as every organization has its own unique “culture,” there is no specific set of standards for a safety culture. However, there are some observable characteristics that identify a safety culture.

Employees observe and correct hazards

In a safety culture, employees are able to observe and correct hazards. Once a hazard is identified, the correction is made and reported. This level of documentation facilitates an ongoing safety program within the entity.

Correct personal protective equipment is worn.

In a safety culture, employees always “dress for success” by wearing the appropriate protective equipment. Employees know which PPE to use for which task, how to use the appropriate equipment to do the task, how to keep PPE well maintained, when to dispose of it and how to dispose of it safely.

The safety committee is respected.

In a safety culture, there is an active safety committee. The committee meetings are scheduled on a regular basis and well-attended. The overall agenda of the committee is clear with goals and performance expectations presented on at least an annual basis. The committee offers regular training in basic safety methods, and also specialized in-service training to deal with safety issues specific to the entity, a department or a program.

There is buy-in from bottom to top

In a safety culture, the process has been worked within organization over time. Because individual motivations are different, the process of infusing a safety culture needs to address an array of motivations. Management will want to see the safety culture reduce the cost of insurance, and employees will want to feel safer and less prone to injuries. Employees will want to feel valued for their contributions in terms of identifying and correcting hazards. In determining if you have a safety culture, it is important to have employees at various levels measure activities versus performance.

Recommendations

Here are some examples of best practices that have facilitated organizational change to a culture of workplace safety. These examples can be put into practice in virtually any entity. One of the most important ways to successfully embed safety into an entity’s culture is to have a lead person for safety (safety coordinator) with authority to enforce safety standards or look for ways to share responsibility for safety within the organization. Another important factor is the presence of an active safety committee to conduct a periodic reviews and training.

Collaborating with your insurance provider is important in reducing the cost of workers’ compensation claims. Being an active partner with your provider will put both your entity and the insurer on the same page. One of the most important components of this partnership is the timely reporting of claims, using online claims management, if available. Insurance providers need to know as soon as possible if there is even the possibility of a claim.

It is important to manage a workers’ compensation claim closely. Stay in touch with those employees who are out on disability and, if possible, institute a flexible return to work or light duty program. Make accident investigation forward-looking rather than punitive. It is much more important to maintain a level of openness and receptivity to determine the root cause of the incident.

The use of an ombudsman can be very important in deflecting workplace violence. The presence of an ombudsman can diffuse difficult situations, and direct the parties involved to either mediation of some form, or to the organization’s grievance procedure. Also important is training receptionists to defuse potentially violent situations by employees who feel misused by the entity.

The chief elected official needs to include safety as an agenda item at least once a quarter. The official needs to know the progress that is being made in establishing a culture of workplace safety. He or she also needs to know how much accidents and injuries are costing the entity on a quarterly and annual basis

In establishing a safety culture, “near misses” are valuable. It is important to document safety violations by means of a standardized form an analysis of the documented “near misses” can reveal patterns, which will provide clues to larger problems.

Resources

Characteristics of a Safety Culture Checklist

OSHA Safety & Health Management Systems eTool
eTools are electronic Compliance Assistance Tools that provide guidance information for developing a comprehensive safety and health program. Although Safety and Health Programs are required by some states, there is no general OSHA requirement for such a program. Therefore, this eTool includes elements that go beyond specific OSHA mandates, such as recommendations for good industry practice.