Safety culture is an incredibly challenging concept to pin down. Each organization has a unique safety culture because each one is formed by every single policy, procedure, and employee within their facility.
In a recent article about safety culture in Occupational Health and Safety magazine, safety writer Ray Prest explains that one of the only features that all safety cultures have in common is just how complicated they are:
“One of the few universally defining traits is that all safety cultures are an emergent property. They are the result of established procedures and processes, the efficacy of training plans, the strengths and weaknesses of supervisors as well as the individual abilities and mental states of a whole bunch of workers, plus many other factors. It’s a classic example of the sum being equal to the parts, and then some.”
Prest goes on to explain that because cultures are constantly evolving, and because there’s no such thing as a final state or finish line, it may be best to view safety culture through a lens of continual improvement. That is to say, no matter what your current workplace culture is, there are always steps you can take to improve employee attitudes and social norms regarding safety.
To that end, Prest explains that certain soft skills can help company leaders, from senior executives to frontline supervisors, build a better safety culture while also improving EHS outcomes. As he says:
“Expressing a degree of faith in workers’ abilities makes hard conversations easier. It also builds trust, which is a major component of culture … Using a consistent and common language can reduce ambiguity as well as make it easier for workers to share real-time safety observations with each other. Research has shown that demonstrating genuine appreciation for workers will make them work harder and can also improve personal accountability. Greater empathy can improve trust, relatability and morale.”
Prest notes that “few interventions can kill as many birds with one stone as improving employee-facing soft skills.” While he doesn’t get into the specifics of how to do so, a comprehensive guide on soft skills for safety points out that in addition to having a significant impact on culture, skills-based training can also be among the most cost-efficient safety interventions available to organizations.
That said, there is plenty of additional context and insight about safety culture. It’s well worth the full read for anyone who is interested in moving the needle on safety culture in the workplace—you can find it in the June 2023 issue of OH&S. It just might offer the perspective you need to take the next step in moving your company’s EHS culture forward.