Safety isn't just a manufacturer-only concern. Protecting workers from falls and other physical injuries is part of it, but organizational safety also encompasses your employees’ ability to express themselves freely, and to come to work knowing that their confidential information will not be compromised. Whether you're a small retail operation or a big consulting firm with employees worldwide, safety should be a critical issue. Not only will making safety a priority protect you from being sued, but it will also contribute to the overall strength of your culture.
Digicast is an Australia-based workforce consultancy that recently produced a white paper, Three Factors That Influence Workplace Culture, which connected safety to strong organizational culture. One interesting section dealt with the factors that influence safety. I've highlighted these in the "Five Commandments of Safety."
1. Thou Who Has an Office Shall Clean It.
Digicast cites a study by Dave DeJoy and Todd Smith from the University of Georgia's College of Public Health, which found that a well-kept site usually means safety is a priority. “If you talk to people who do safety inspections," DeJoy says, "they will tell you that the first impression they get when they walk into a factory or construction site—how neat it is and whether employees seem to be actively engaged—often indicates whether a workplace is safe.”
2. Thou Shall Not Overwork Your Employees.
The same study by DeJoy and Smith also found that when work interfered with family demands, job performance was affected and the risk for injury increased by 37 percent. In 2011, when excessive working hours resulted in pilot error on several airlines, the FAA stepped in with regulations. Even if you’re not dealing with human lives, ensuring your employees have solid work-life balance and are satisfied in their roles will enhance safety and culture.
3. Thou Shall Not Make Safety an Afterthought.
Digicast says that progressive companies with best-in-class safety records include safety in all major decisions. Safety is a topic at every board meeting and all departments consider safety when developing products and services. Leaders don’t bury their heads in the sand, and HR is totally on board. “A lot of organizations are set up so there is a wall between HR and occupational health and safety, but the two can no longer afford to work in silos,” DeJoy says.
Jonathan Thomas of the National Safety Council adds, “The things that HR leaders are most concerned about are also the building blocks for building a safe workplace.”
4. Thou Shall Train Great Supervisors.
Per Digicast, various studies have illustrated that positive communication between supervisors and employees improves safety performance. When employees are able to freely raise safety concerns and can speak with candor about risks, fewer troublesome incidents occur (provided that management takes action on the safety issues). A good supervisor fosters positive safety attitudes and encourages sharing important safety-related information.
5. Thou Shall Encourage Personal Responsibility.
In truly safe cultures, employees proactively discuss safety issues and voice concerns without prompting. Digicast notes that this can only happen when employees understand the organization’s safety measures and have a strong sense of accountability for adhering to them. Employees look out for themselves and their colleagues and are active partners in developing safety policy.
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Alexandra Levit is a former nationally syndicated business and workplace columnist for the Wall Street Journal and the author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success. Money Magazine’s Online Career Expert of the Year, she regularly speaks at organizations and conferences on issues facing modern employees.