CATEGORIZED | 2007, September/October

SAFETY principles can help achieve true culture of safety

Posted on 28 October 2009

By Greg Anderson, Randy Smith Training Solutions

Culture is described as the beliefs and behaviors handed down from one generation to the next. In the workplace, each new employee and contractor represents the next generation of a company. This can be an opportunity or a continuing challenge, because these new people will adopt the safety behaviors of their co-workers.

One finding that came out of a major industrial incident was that “hazard training was largely passed down by experience from others. Sometimes this guidance was poor, perhaps due to an element of complacency.” Managers need to constantly ask themselves, “Whose behaviors are our new people adopting? Are these the behaviors we want passed to the next generation of employees?”

There is a significant difference in a safety culture and a culture of safety. A safety culture simply describes the beliefs and behaviors that are demonstrated within an organization. Therefore, a safety culture may be good, focused on reducing incidents and injuries, or it might be poor, tolerating at-risk behaviors.

Dr Najmedin Meshkati, a professor at the University of Southern California, said, “A (strong) safety culture creates the necessary framework within an organization – whose development and maintenance is the responsibility of top management – and the attitude of staff at all different levels in responding to and benefiting from the framework.”

When building a culture of safety, management must create an environment that enables safety to be a core value and, more importantly, within the hearts of the individuals who work there. To help instill a strong culture of safety in day-to-day operations, management should consider adopting the SAFETY principles.

Support: To build and maintain a strong culture of safety, management must not only buy-in but consistently exemplify this standard by supporting it and making sure it stays relevant as the company evolves. Safety is not a priority; it must be a core value. Priorities change; core values remain constant. When money becomes tight and operations fall behind schedule, the priority can become “get the job done no matter what.” If safety is only one of many priorities, it takes a back seat. When safety is a core value, the organization commits to putting human life above all other demands.

Accountability: In a culture of safety, people are not only entitled to speak-up when they observe at-risk behavior, it is an expectation for which they are held accountable. If someone stops a job because something looks or even feels at-risk, they should not be harassed by their peers or supervisors. Instead, they should be praised for having the courage to demonstrate the desired behavior of speaking-up for safety.

Follow-up: It is essential for managers and supervisors to follow up with their people and continuously demonstrate their personal commitment to safety. Personnel observe the behavior of their supervisors. Do managers reward an employee’s operational performance without recognizing the risks they took to achieve the outcome? To illustrate a poor safety culture, an employee may have completed a task quickly, but performed at-risk behaviors along the way. By acknowledging the employee for a job well done, the manager is not only tolerating, they are reinforcing, the at-risk behavior.

Elevate: Management should elevate people who support the culture of safety and eliminate those who tolerate at-risk behaviors, even if they are top producers. If upper management is pushing safety from the top down and people at the sharp end of the stick are pushing from the bottom up, a mid-level supervisor who doesn’t currently support a culture of safety will eventually either change their perspective, or the new culture will squeeze them out.

Train: At-risk behaviors are those things we do day in and day out that put us or someone else at unnecessary risk. It is the organization’s responsibility to train their people to observe, identify and provide effective feedback on how to change these at-risk behaviors. Providing people the knowledge, skills and ability to reduce at-risk behavior can only be done through training.

You: Too often, people still rely on “compliance with” safety policies, procedures and equipment in everyday operations rather than a “belief in” safety. Safety must become a personal value. A person’s attitude toward safety is a choice, and it is your choice to believe in safety for you, your family and your teammates. In a culture of safety, you are the key to creating an incident-free environment.

Greg Anderson is president and chief executive officer of Randy Smith Training Solutions and co-author of Safety 24/7, which focuses on helping companies create strong safety cultures.


Support safety as a core value by committing to put human life ahead of all other demands.

Accountability gives all employees the right/responsibility to call a time-out and rewards them for doing it, even if it’s a false alarm.

Follow up by demonstrating and communicating a personal commitment to safety in all of your actions.

Elevate people who support the new culture and eliminate those who tolerate at-risk behavior, even top producers.

Train people to observe at-risk behaviors and have conversations to empower employees to make changes to at-risk behaviors.

You are the key to an incident-free environment.

From Safety 24/7, copyright 2006

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