What Does a Great Safety Culture Look Like?

By Scott Schweyer

We don’t think any organization can claim to be ‘accident proof’, but there’s one very good sign that you have a great safety culture — the ‘Give-A-Care Meter’.

The ‘Give-A-Care Meter’ doesn’t show up in any of the normal measures of safety culture; it’s a funny thing to measure, but you know if it is there, and you definitely know if it is missing.

You and your organization have likely done a lot to help move the meter from poor to excellent. Excellent, though, is very elusive. Why? In order to attain it, everyone needs to care about each other’s safety. All of their collective actions and attitudes impact whether people around them see an excellent rating on the ‘Give-A-Care Meter’.

You need the right systems for a safe work culture and employees need the right tools to perform their jobs safely. But even if you have all those elements in place, it just takes one person showing poor safety behavior to lower the meter. What if a person walks through a hard hat area without wearing their hard hat and no one calls them on it? Is the ‘Give-A-Care Meter’ affected? Or, you call the supervisor and you can tell based on the background noise they’re driving. You know your organization has a no cellular devices while driving policy, but you don’t say anything about it because you’re afraid to confront the boss. What statistic will ever record these types of issues? Some might say a near miss report should document them, but that assumes the people involved are aware there was a potential near miss and will take the time to fill out the proper paperwork.

It’s pretty standard in many industries to conduct pre-shift meetings prior to work starting where employees are encouraged to bring up their safety concerns. This is a great way to ensure people are aware of potential hazards on the job. Some organizations do them incredibly well and really take the time to include everyone, making them a very positive experience. After one such positive experience we went on a tour of a grocery warehouse with a manager, who walked by shrink wrap and small pieces of broken pallet on the floor. Is this a big deal? Will it show up in any metric? No — but it sure shows up in the ‘Give-A-Care Meter’ with employees not picking up after themselves. On this same tour, workers were noticed leaving locations without cleaning up and speeding by several locations that had not been cleaned. Were they productive? Yes. Will they ever link cleanliness and housekeeping to their safety culture? Not likely. The ‘Give-A-Care Meter’ seemed pretty low and everyone knew it.

When we discuss safety culture with clients, they pull out a lot of information about near misses, incident rates, and so on. After the normal statistics are discussed we often ask a new client how comfortable their employees are bringing up a concern if they see another person is involved in something they consider unsafe, even if no one else is around to see it. Most organizations have mixed answers — it’s the sort of question that isn’t normally asked.

The following results were found with a recent group at a construction client when people were asked whether they would intervene if they saw an at risk behavior done by someone else (note: We did not qualify the nature of the at risk behavior):

atrishbehaviorschart In this organization only 17% of people said they would actually take the time report or bring up the at-risk behavior. Employees mostly let their co-workers carry on with unsafe behavior and did not report it. If people perceive that nothing will be done regardless of their reporting, or they feel the need to just stay on task instead of getting involved, they often overlook the issue, keeping it to themselves, or talk about it in the lunch room with their peers.
We followed by asking the group what the most significant personal barrier to addressing these concerns with a co-worker would be.

barrierschartWhen people face a safety concern, they start looking at the potential consequences they may face. Many times, they may not bring something up with a co-worker if they fear the reaction of the person involved. If a person already feels a lack of control or perceives little will be done, why risk having a potentially difficult interaction with someone? What if they get angry with you? What if they challenge your observation and say you’ve done the same thing? These reactions could likely happen. If there are potentially negative consequences, why would somebody want to get involved?

For the ‘Give-A-Care Meter’ to show a high rating, employees need to believe that their concerns will be addressed and changes will be made. They need to know that no matter what they’re bringing up the other person understands it’s about ensuring everyone goes home safe at the end of the day, not about “ratting” somebody out. When employees feel their input and ideas matter they start to care and take pride in where they work and who they work for.

We worked with an organization that guaranteed to its workers that whatever was brought up in the pre-shift meeting that involved management, or if anything was put in the suggestion box during the day, they would discuss every item at their 4:00 pm management meeting. They would provide a response that same day, detailing how it would be handled, even sending a letter home with the employee stating the same. They showed their team just how much their opinions mattered, which was reflected in increased production, quality and safety results.

The ‘Give-A-Care Meter’ does not really have a direct measurement — but when you walk in to any work environment, you can tell whether or not it’s a high rating. When it comes to safe work, the ‘Give-A-Care Meter’ is even more important because it means the difference between employees stepping up and saying something, or leaving another person to work in a potentially dangerous situation.

We would love to talk with you about our safety awareness programs, or how to build a safety culture with more courageous, peer-to-peer safety conversations. Contact us today to find out how we can enhance your organization’s safety culture.

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