Most of us take it as a given that we should go home from work as safely as we arrived. But in reality, we can’t just assume our workplaces are safe spaces. Being and feeling safe at work takes time, training, and often a fundamental shift in behaviours and organisational culture.
That’s why at NKD, we encourage everyone we work with to build a ‘safety culture’ at their companies, rather than just providing safety training. We’re talking about advocating for a total shift in safety practices and mindset that filters throughout the entire business. What does that really mean? It’s all about moving from reactive and rule-based cultures that thrive on compliance alone to proactive behaviour based cultures that thrive on commitment.
A strong safety culture is one where both psychological and physical safety are the highest priority, staff are rigorously trained, people are continuously learning, and everyone can thrive because they feel safe to work in mind and body. Embedding a robust safety culture is an investment, and it’s not always a quick fix, but it’s vital for a happy and motivated workforce. As per the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “a safe workplace is sound business.” As Safety Culture notes, having robust policies and processes for a safer workplace can help reduce injuries, work-related ill health cases, fatalities, sicknesses, and deaths, which can boost employee morale and productivity, as they will feel protected.
Having a strong safety culture is great for your people, but it’s undoubtedly good for business too, with fewer workplace injuries leading to insurance claims and money spent on equipment repairs, not to mention protecting the general reputation of your company. WHO’s research has also shown that workplace initiatives can reduce sick leaves and other health complications from worsening by 27% and reduce company healthcare costs by 26%.
So, how can you start to build a safety culture at your business where everyone is protected, comfortable and confident to do their best work?
Make it known that safety is not a tick-box exercise
Safety should be a top priority at your business and reflected in everything you do. From training plans to business plans, staff inductions to performance reviews, conversations around the water cooler, regular check-ins, staff handbooks, policies and processes, brand values and how you reward and recognise your people.
Make it behaviour based
To reach any level of safety culture maturity, we believe a Behaviour-Based Safety approach is one of the key ingredients and aims to create a proactive safety culture by addressing the human factors that contribute to workplace incidents. It recognises that by understanding and influencing behaviours, organisations can significantly reduce the risk of accidents and create safer working environments.
Keep communication lines open
As noted by leading health and safety consultants SHEilds, “clear and open communication is essential for fostering a positive safety culture. Establish channels for team members to report hazards, concerns, and suggestions for improvement. Ensure that team members receive regular updates on safety performance, new policies, and procedures, and any changes in regulations.”
Lead by example
Any organisational and behavioural culture shift must come from the top-down, which is why leadership teams arethe glue that make safety culture stick. Ensure your executives lead by example, demonstrating their commitment to safety, setting clear expectations and providing adequate resources to their teams. Leaders should make safety their number one concern, identifying training gaps and implementing safety programmes. Leaders should invest in their workforce so that teams are not only compliant, but continuously learning and are ultra-vigilant, every day.
Get everyone involved
A shared workplace culture needs to include everyone. All staff need to feel their voices are heard. Fostering an environment of two-way dialogue where team members can raise issues and concerns and encourage others to continuously improve safety practices is key. We know that maximising team-talks are one of the biggest opportunities to make a difference – as long as they’re used to their full potential.
As emphasised by SHEilds, companies with a strong safety culture “encourage employee involvement in safety initiatives by soliciting their input, providing opportunities for them to participate in safety committees or teams, and recognising their contributions to improving safety performance.”
Make time for learning
Safety is not a one-time training exercise so there needs to be continuous learning as your business grows and develops. When an accident does happen, it’s vital to have a structured plan for recovery which includes space to talk about how to avoid another incident. We’ve worked with clients to help them embed their injury management training as part of a wider safety culture plan, read more about that here.
Training, training, training
Safety training which is role specific, tailored, thorough and digestible is at the heart of this work. All staff should feel equipped to perform their roles safely, with complete confidence. As well as team members, leaders and middle managers need to be provided with training to support their teams. Providing the training they need enables them to feel confident and capable of leading a behaviour-based safety culture. They also have lots of day-to-day responsibility within their roles and supporting them benefits bottom line overall.
Prioritise psychological, not just physical, safety
At NKD, we constantly advocate for the importance of psychological safety at work. Psychological safety isn’t just a buzzword, it means an environment in which people are comfortable being themselves. A place where they feel safe asking questions, sharing ideas, giving/receiving feedback and taking risks to challenge the status quo.
Many of us will have had an experience of working somewhere where our psychological safety felt at risk. This could look like discrimination based on identity, not being listened to, having our boundaries crossed, or being afraid to speak up. It’s not just a ‘nice to have’, psychological safety is imperative to ensure that team members feel comfortable, happy and safe. Having team members who feel psychologically safe also means that they’re more likely to speak up when there’s a physical hazard, too.
Another study also found psychological safety can lead to a 27% reduction in turnover, a 40% reduction in safety incidents and a 12% increase in productivity.