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7 Habits of Highly Successful Safety Cultures

By Jose Maldonado   |   

Safety should be a top concern for any company that is genuinely concerned for the wellbeing of their employees, not to mention for the company’s overall bottom line. But the argument for a solid workplace safety program can vary depending on who you ask. Someone from legal or accounting might cite the need to reduce costs from potential litigation while employees say they would simply like to finish their day and return home without injuries.

The trick is getting both sides on the same page. Obviously, a safe workplace motivates people to come to work, which is a huge benefit and attraction for employers competing in a tightening labor market.

The best way to make employees feel like they are a part of the solution is to include them in the decision-making process. During my 18 years of experience in product quality and employee safety, I’ve developed techniques to help drive this connection. Many of these are used at RLS Logistics to advance our workplace safety culture.

I shared some of these techniques recently with Intertek Alchemy for their webinar: The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Safety Cultures. You might recognize this reference to the book — The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.

Here’s a short recap of the seven habits we use to drive safety at RLS Logistics.

Habit 1 – Be Proactive

As you begin building your workplace safety culture, set your employees up for success by taking a proactive stance from day one, starting with employee orientations. This is one of the best opportunities to share how team members are a part of the bigger picture by training them on the fundamentals of workplace safety.

Make sure they comprehend the training and understand how it will ultimately help meet their needs for working in a safe environment. When you look at this objective all together, the one word that should come to mind is “engagement,” to ensure they understand the company’s safety culture and their role in developing and maintaining it during their time with the company.

To help improve their comprehension, try engaging team members throughout the training by asking questions and encouraging discussions on safety issues that are important to them. You also need to make sure the training matches the employees’ education level.

Two things you can do to be successful in this regard is to (1) incorporate team members into your training programs and (2) provide internal certificates that help team members remember what they’ve learned and promote their level of training.

Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind

When determining your workplace safety culture try looking at it from the perspective of multiple audiences – your executive management and your employees. Yes, both sides share an end goal of improving safety. But each side will likely have a different perspective of what that end result looks like and how it will benefit them. So, start with the end in mind from the perspective of each side.

Begin by completing the sentence: “Our safety culture will….” And then look at how expectations might differ between the company and employees.

From the corporate side it might mean that the safety culture will help:

  • Educate and retain employees
  • Create a safe working environment
  • Produce high-quality products
  • Maximize productivity
  • Ensure audit compliance.

From an employee perspective, a safety culture might help:

  • Enable them to do their jobs safely
  • Work in a safe environment
  • Demonstrate that their employer cares about their safety
  • They make it home safely to their families at the end of the day.

The goal is to help both audiences understand their different but similar expectations, how they affect each other’s goals, and develop a way to achieve a safety culture that delivers for everyone.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

When looking at this habit, replace “things” with “employee safety” and you’re on the right track for success. By putting employee safety first, you’re committing to reacting fast when an incident occurs. Safety leaders need to investigate the incident immediately by talking to employees, viewing video footage if it’s available, and making a report on the same day if possible.

Companies can show employees they are engaged, committed and paying attention by immediately diving into what happened and examining ways to prevent it from occurring again.

This approach applies to near misses as well. It’s not just about whether or not someone was injured. It’s also about what could have happened, which could be quite serious. So, you also have to quickly act on that occasion as well. With this approach, you can demonstrate that you’re taking action because you care, you’re involved, and you really mean it when you say that employee safety is important to you. Here’s a tip – as you act quickly, don’t forget to focus on the individual first. Ask them how they’re doing and what they need from you. Then get into the details for the report.

Habit 4: Think Win-Win

Winning is something we all like to make a habit, just like safety protocols. That’s why it’s important to think through what you need from your employees and what they need from you.

Workplace safety is a two-way street. Know your employees and their challenges. Then show how your work safety culture addresses their daily dilemmas. When you correct an issue, do it in public to show the rest of your community that you have a legitimate concern for your employees.

It takes trust to follow someone’s lead. Make sure employees know that you don’t want to ignore them and that you care about them. Demonstrate your commitment to being a problem solver and a good role model. What wins for them by making their work safer and gaining their trust in the process is ultimately a win for the company.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, then to Be Understood

It’s common for leaders to make the mistake of going into a workplace thinking they will come up all the solutions. Employee input is thought to be unnecessary, and engagement is needed only to provide instructions. These leaders are missing out on valuable insights.

Frontline workers have all the best insights when it comes to workplace safety because they live it day in and day out. When I talk to our employees about safety, I learn and receive some of the best ideas ever.

The best leaders don’t go into a meeting with the intention of telling people their ideas.
They go with the idea of sitting in the meeting, hearing everybody before they come up with a solution.

So before deciding on safety policies on your own, find time to engage with your employees and seek their input. See your employees as internal consultants and ask their advice and learn what fuels their passion. Become their ally and remember the personal impact that safety has on them and their families.

Habit 6: Synergize Your Successes

If you have accomplished all the habits above, make sure you take the time to share success across the organization. Celebrate your wins publicly, showcase the support you’ve received from management and the delivery of the proper tools your employees need. Finally, share the progress on your shared goals.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw and Create a Continuous Learning Environment

Even as you achieve your goals together, always strive for better. You’ll do this by leveraging your improved abilities to communicate, observe and maintain awareness of safety practices in your environment.

The best way to do this to host ongoing safety huddles. These huddles don’t always have to be planned. Some of the best insights come from frequent, casual, and informal conversations with employees. Make a point of observing team members often to make sure that you understand the job that is being performed. And always, keep training top-of-mind with strategically placed posters and digital signage.

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