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By Master Trainer Beth Harlan

Employees in any profession face some level of risk when performing their day-to-day job responsibilities. While risks may vary by severity, frequency, and type, all employers should make an effort to reduce or remove risks to their employees. To do this, you can develop a comprehensive culture of safety at your workplace.

A safe workplace culture is generally defined as a core set of values, beliefs, and behaviors that prioritize staff and client safety in the workplace. 

Staff at All Levels Should Prioritize Safety

One step in developing a safety culture in your workplace is for staff at all levels of the organization to prioritize safety. To clarify, that prioritization needs to not only be clearly communicated in writing to all staff, but all staff need to observe their peers engaging in safe behavior. In order to get staff to engage in safe behavior, managers and leaders in the organization also need to engage in safe behaviors at work. They must also provide praise and other reinforcement for all other staff who engage in safe behavior.

Supervisors must lead by example.

For example, this could look like a supervisor wearing protective equipment when on the floor with clients. It could also look like praising a staff member for wearing a hat when they need to for their safety. Additionally, supervisors could hold meetings where the sole topic is safety. Staff would complete drills and role plays to practice the safety skills that apply to their everyday job tasks. These safety meetings could be a forum for staff to bring up safety concerns. It would provide a way for staff and their supervisors to work together to resolve those safety concerns.

In order for those meetings to be successful, staff must be reinforced for their participation. Reinforcement should be given regularly enough to maintain the safe behavior of staff at all levels of the organization. Reinforcement for safety at work could include verbal praise or donuts for teams that frequently show good safety skills. This could also include a point system where not only supervisors, but other staff, could give each other points for engaging in safe behavior. These points could later be exchanged for other items.

Leaders should also clearly make safety a significant factor affecting other policy-related decisions. For example, let's say there is a new policy about how to report injuries. The leaders of the company should explain how this new reporting method will improve safety by increasing accurate and timely reporting of all injuries to staff or clients.

Improve Communication Between All Staff

All staff should be responsible for their clients’ and peers’ safety at work. If staff feel comfortable communicating to their peers and supervisors, they are more likely to report safety concerns. They are more likely to report errors that were made and any recommendations they may have for improving general safety at work.

Studies have shown that a safe workplace culture includes staff being actively engaged in resolving safety issues before they become large-scale problems for the company. Some ways that staff could improve communication are through the use of online forums like Slack. These forums allow staff to post and hold a dialogue about concerns they have at work.

Improved communication among staff could also involve supervisor's accessibility. This would include supervisors being more visible on the floor and meeting with staff frequently to check in . There can also be e-mail communication and notices posted in staff areas around the workplace . These would identify who staff can contact about safety concerns and how they should contact that person. In an ideal safe workplace culture, all staff see themselves as being responsible for safety. Additionally, they see safety as a priority every day at work.

Listen and Respond to Staff Concerns

In order for safety to be a daily priority, staff have to feel confident that their supervisors will respond to their concerns about safety. It is essential that supervisors and managers respond to safety concerns with respect, in a timely manner, and praise staff for bringing concerns to them. Staff are less likely to report if they work at an organization where reports of safety concerns are met with reprisals, punishment, harassment, or apathy from supervisors or other staff.

There should be systems in place to support staff who are trying to report errors that occurred on the floor, or report issues that will likely lead to unsafe conditions if left unaddressed. Those systems could include an anonymous way for staff to report safety concerns, or supervisor training that teaches supervisors how to respond supportively and professionally to any reports of safety issues.

Conclusion

Over time, Safe workplace behavior should be integrated into daily routines. All staff should feel comfortable both letting other staff know when they are observing unsafe behavior and praising their peers when they engage in safe workplace behaviors. We are all responsible for workplace safety. The better we become at building safety cultures, the safer we will be as employees, and the safer our clients will be, regardless of setting.

Check out some of our other blog posts: How to Make Reinforcement Effective and Organizational Resilience.

Citations:

    Agnew, J. (2013, January 23)

    Bernard, B. (2018). Safety Culture Oversight: An Intangible Concept for Tangible Issues within Nuclear Installations. Safety4(4), 45. doi: 10.3390/safety4040045

    McSweeney, F. K., & Murphy, E. S. (2014). The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Operant and Classical Conditioning. John Wiley & Sons.

    The essential role of leadership in developing a safety culture. (2017, March 1). Retrieved February 27, 2020.

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