Four Ways to Embed A Safety Mindset Within Your Company DNA

January 14, 2016

Four Ways to Embed A Safety Mindset Within Your Company DNA

Have you ever spent time with a company that has a really strong safety culture? 

Strong safety cultures are woven into employee actions as naturally as the way we breathe in and out. Even as a supplier, you feel the safety imperativefrom gentle reminders to hold hand rails when walking down a staircase to how people observe a safety minute at the beginning of every meeting (if you have worked in manufacturing or oil and gas, you know how important this is). I even began to notice the lack of a safety minute at the beginning of meetings with my other clients and then chose to add this to my own part of the agenda. Funny thing, once I started to do this as if it was a normal thing to do, others began to follow suit!

The winter issue of People + Strategy offers several examples of powerful approaches to improving safety in the workplace. Across these contributions a few themes stand out:

1. A strong safety culture occurs at every level of the business. Companies with a strong safety mindset simultaneously set the tone from the top and foster bottom up ownership. Paul Fricano, VP of HR at Oxbo International Corporation, tells us that once shop floor teams make safety part of their continuous improvement processes, it's no longer a management program; it's now a way of life at work. 

2. Changing your company approach to safety requires systemic and cultural intervention. It takes a keen eye to recognize how embedded role relationships can limit the impact of even well intended change. Debra Ball and colleagues at ProMedica Health System followed a multi-faceted change effort, including training hospital staff to surface concerns and how to listen to others who might not normally speak up or be heard when they do speak up.  

Improving the safety culture at New York City Transit not only impacted employees, but it also impacted riders, as relayed in an article by Levi Nieminen and colleagues. One key lesson is to simultaneously think big picture and at a detailed execution level. Another lesson is to build support by tying safety change to performance improvements.

3. Process matters but so does willingness to communicate what you value around safety. I once worked with a refinery manager who sent a safety letter to the families of employees letting them know how much he valued the people who worked in his refinery, and that is why he wanted their families to also be aware of safety process improvements. He was building support from the outside in, and this required his readiness to widely speak to his values around safety at work. 

Mary Gentile, author of Giving Voice to Values, a global authority on why people choose not to speak up, and what we can do to foster speaking up when it matters most, shares tactics to enable people to speak up at work for what matters, and that applies directly to embedding safety mindset into your company DNA.

4. Anticipation and response go hand in hand. Violence on college campuses has sadly been in the news far too often. Ben Baran reports in the same issue of People + Strategy about a simulation used to study responses to a college campus active shooter and lessons that can be learned. Karen Garavatti follows with a summary of best practices for communication and crisis management, a pivotal responsibility of all HR departments. 

A strong safety culture should be a shared commitment of every C-level executive and the board. Human resources departments have a pivotal role to play at the forefront of safety strategy and execution.

How have you embedded a safety mindset into the DNA of your company?

The Authors: 

Marc Sokol is executive editor of People + Strategy. For more information on this topic, see the winter 2016 issue, Ensuring the Secure Enterprise: A Pivotal Role for HR at a preview of the issue here. Marc can be reached at