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According to the Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada, Canadians lost over 250,000 hours of work in 2017 due to injury, and there were over 900 fatalities. This impacts a workplace deeply, both in terms of morale and productivity.
Keeping workers safe is integral to any successful organization. We have to shift how we think and operate if we want to improve safety cultures in our organizations.
So how do we do that? Culture, a set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization, is, by definition, invisible. This makes it difficult to identify and even harder to change.
Difficult, but not impossible.
Here are five ways you can change your workplace culture and put safety first in your organization.
Getting buy-in at the top of the organization sets an example to the entire organization that safety is something to be valued. It also helps ensure that your executive is aware of their legal obligations that the organization faces.
Getting executive buy-in and ongoing support can be difficult, but it can also make or break the success of a program. The Harvard Business Review offers a practical framework you can use to successfully present a program or idea to organizational executives, complete with examples.
More specifically, Basic Safe offers some great tips on getting C-Suite buy-in when building a safety program.
An easy way to build a culture of safety at your organization is to place it at the top of every meeting agenda.
Health and safety affects every member of an organization, from brand new CEOs working in their offices to veteran contractors working on job sites across the globe. Putting safety on every meeting agenda reminds everyone of your commitment to their health and safety and keeps it top of mind as staff go about their work.
We know from childhood that repetition helps to learn new things, and there is scientific evidence to back it up: learning over time enhances memory. Using this knowledge to your advantage in creating a culture of safety in your organization will set you up for success.
Add it to checklists, have new hires read your H&S policies as part of their onboarding, or have ongoing briefings and refreshers.
You could also begin using a contractor qualification tool. This will allow you to make sure all your contractors’ registrations are up to date and help register those who need it. This will, in turn, make it easier for you to ensure that your organization is a safe place to work.
Every time you add health and safety to part of how your organization does what it does, you remove a barrier to your employees’ participation in the culture of safety you have set-up in your organization.
Take a look at the various stakeholders surrounding your organization. Who is invested in safety? Who is supportive of the culture you are attempting to build? These are your champions, and they are key figures in your efforts to embed safety within your organization.
Identifying your champions can help you leverage the principle of social proof, “a psychological phenomenon where we are influenced by and conform to the actions of others”. We observe the actions of others and follow their lead, especially when they are trusted or influential. This classic ‘don’t take my word for it’ tactic is used in many industries and contexts with great success.
Having people other than the core team speak to the value of what you are trying to do has a number of positive outcomes:
According to the principles of operant conditioning, “positive reinforcement strengthens a behavior by providing a consequence an individual finds rewarding”. In other words, if you reward someone when they do something you value, they are more likely to continue doing that thing.
Is someone especially engaged with the safety program? Do you notice someone taking extra care with themselves and their colleagues on the job site? Do you have a contractor or manager or executive who regularly reminds others to take safety into consideration?
Reward this behavior to show that you appreciate their help and want them to continue to contribute to the safety culture being built.
Building or changing a culture can be a challenge, but nurturing a safe and healthy workplace is vital. Regardless of an employee’s role, everyone deserves a safe place to work. If you focus on these five tips you will be well on your way to a solid and safe workplace culture.