Establishing a Culture of SAFETY

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 coworkers. One of the findings from a major industrial incident was “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 and are these behaviors we want being passed along 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 that put people at unnecessary risk.

In a newspaper article, Dr. Najmedin Meshkati, professor of civil, environmental and system engineering 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 the environment that enables safety to be a core value of the company and, more importantly, within the hearts of the individuals who work there. It should be something everyone practices both at work and in their personal lives. In order to help instill a strong culture of safety in day-to-day operations, management should consider adopting the SAFETY principles.

Support safety as 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.


In order 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 as a priority must be avoided when building a culture of safety. In a strong safety culture, safety is elevated to be a core value within the organization.

As companies evolve, their priorities often change. Core values, however, remain constant. An example of this is 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 typically takes a back seat to cost cutting, operational performance and even client demands. When safety is a core value, the organization commits to putting human life above all other demands, even when it comes into conflict with something else. This consistent support enables people to have the courage to think about their behaviors as well as the behavior of those around them.


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 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. This accountability gives all employees within an organization the right to call a time-out and even rewards them for doing so.


It is essential for managers and supervisors to follow-up with their people and continuously demonstrate and communicate their personal commitment to safety. Personnel observe the behavior of their supervisor. 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 that put them or someone else in jeopardy. By acknowledging the employee for a job well-done, the manager is not only tolerating, they are in fact reinforcing, the at-risk behavior. Continual follow-up lets people know their supervisor is committed to safety.


Management should elevate people who support the new 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 midlevel supervisor that doesn’t currently support a culture of safety will eventually either change their perspective, or the new culture will squeeze them out. Elevating people who believe in safety as a core value will ensure a lasting culture of safety.


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, which are the root cause of most incidents. Providing people the knowledge, skills and ability to reduce at-risk behavior can only be done through training.


Too often, people still rely on ‘compliance with’ safety policies, procedures and equipment in everyday operations rather than a ‘belief in’ safety. In order to create a culture of safety, safety must become a personal value where each employee takes responsibility for recognizing and reducing unnecessary at-risk behaviors. 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.

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