Promoting a Full Circle Safety Culture
By Nick Vaccaro
As time and industry have evolved, an intense focus on safety culture and its programs have flourished. While specific sectors, like oil and gas, spoke more openly about workplace safety in the past, now its presence is taking root in nearly all business areas. Although this serves as a testament that many employers are beginning to embrace safety cultures, it does not precisely reflect the same level of acceptance by the workforce. To achieve such support, a great deal of coaching, mentoring, and commitment must take place.
According to Bruce Mackinnon, CD Regional Health and Safety Manager, Region 8, the most critical component to cultivating a thriving safety culture lies within the management’s support of the program and promoting their message. This can take the form of a safety video or through an in-person method. These mediums yield a greater success rate than a typically written statement.
“Having the president of a company write and sign a safety statement is fine, but it doesn’t carry the same weight as a more personal touch through a video or speaking directly with employees on safety,” said Mackinnon. “Whether it is a construction or engineering firm, that safety video or live discussion should come from the most senior managers.”
Mackinnon indicated another critical component to cultivating a proactive safety culture involves embracing behavior-based safety programs. This fuels employee participation in hunting for unsafe work behavior and taking direct responsibility for correcting that behavior and coaching that individual.
Buy-In Through Discussion
Lecturing and reprimands typically cause an employee to shut down and miss the message of safety altogether. Proactive discussions can provide for a more desirable outcome.
“The idea is the people who have responsibility for the workers should take the time to observe the workers. Check employees from head to toe and make sure they are wearing PPE and note if they are wearing it correctly,” said Mackinnon. “If these individuals see an unsafe act or condition, they need to stop and have a discussion about it. Get that worker’s input and talk about the observation so they can understand what they are doing wrong.”
Mackinnon stresses the importance of in-depth discussions. He feels that a 10-minute interval is crucial in preserving safety, and it serves as an opportunity for management to engage the workforce as leaders in the safety culture.
“Having those types of discussions between the supervisors and the workers, and even the managers and the workers, enforces the concept of a safety culture,” said Mackinnon. “A safety culture is not a book on a shelf but is instead leadership of an organization openly talking to employees and engaging with them about safety.”
Incidents, accidents, and near misses can only be rectified if they are made known. It is not uncommon for an incident to occur in the field, and the information never makes it back to the office. Hiding this information only harms the workforce in the future as that particular issue can reoccur.
Employees must be given the outlet to report unsafe instances and feel confident in speaking up. The excellent catch system can catalyze getting the workforce talking and looking out for each other’s safety. This is the ability to correct an issue before it can manifest and potentially cause harm to others.
Mackinnon proposed the good catch scenario of spilled oil on the floor of a work facility. An employee who walks upon the spill and sees no one else around decides to clean up the contents immediately. This prevents someone else from being negatively impacted by way of a slip or fall. This would be considered a good catch.
“We need to get employees engaged in this,” said Mackinnon. “Employees that report a good catch should be recognized by upper management in some form or fashion.”
Mackinnon concluded that this communication reinforces the commitment to safety. If employees see that management recognizes positive acts of safety, the employees will be more likely and willing to continue to accept the process. As they come to understand the importance, safe work behavior becomes second nature.
“In our organization, we have an even deeper way,” said Mackinnon. “We have what we call an employee intervention program. I can’t see what I’m doing wrong, but I can see what you’re doing wrong, and you can see the same in me. When we see someone doing something unsafe, we stop and discuss it. We bring the issue to that person’s attention and discuss how dangerous the outcome could be.”
Initiating the Safe Work Culture
While many safety professionals voice different opinions on where to start when putting a safety program into place, Mackinnon sees the most importance in safety-based observation programs. He said numerous variations and programs exist in the workplace today, and the key to success is to find one that speaks to your business. He indicated an endless supply of programs is on the market that teaches how to talk about safety.
“One of the things that the construction industry lacks is training in difficult conversations,” said Mackinnon. “If you work in the trauma ward of a hospital, the chances are great that you will have to have a difficult conversation with a patient or family member. You might have to tell a family that a loved one has died. Understanding how to have difficult conversations is essential. This is something we don’t teach in the construction industry. Teaching managers and supervisors how to conduct difficult conversations can help develop a safety culture because sometimes people are afraid to say things to others.”
Mackinnon compared the young safety professionals exiting college and entering the workplace with individuals who have worked in construction for over 25 years. He said that safety professionals have all this knowledge in their arsenal. However, they have never spent a day on a construction project. It leads to a difficult conversation when the safety professional informs a 25-year veteran employee that they fail to wear fall protection properly.
According to Mackinnon, the issue manifests with complacency. That same 25-year employee might be inclined to inform the safety professional that he has worn his fall protection this way for his entire career and never experienced any negative consequences.
“The problem with shortcuts is that one day they will fail,” said Mackinnon.
To repair this particular thought process, Mackinnon justified the use of those behavioral safety tactics. This methodology is evident in three strike disciplinary programs while other companies coach with a ten life-saving rule concept or even tenants of success. These all involve difficult conversations with a hopeful outcome of a lesson learned and unsafe behavior discarded in the future.
Mackinnon forged these tools together to combat unsafe behavior and promote a safe workplace effectively.
“We have the engagement from all levels of management, and we have the safety base observation,” said Mackinnon. “Then we have some behavior correction program. These provisions formulate a safe culture because it gets people thinking about what they’re doing and taking care of each other.”
When putting the plan into action, Mackinnon recommends full engagement. Through a company-wide meeting, discuss the strategy and allow for an open dialogue.
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