Creating a Safety Culture: 15 Steps to Implementation

You’ve decided to actively create a culture of safety. Congratulations! Making this commitment is an important step toward preventing workplace injuries and showing employees you care about their well-being. When you plan, train and empower employees across all levels of your organization to develop a safety mindset, you will be on the way to establishing a culture of safety. We encourage you to follow these steps to get started:

  1. Define Safety Responsibilities and Promote Accountability
    • Commit to safety on all levels. Your organization’s entire management team must buy in to create a successful safety culture. They are the leaders for positive change, and you’re likely to fail if they’re not on board.
    • Include goals, policies and plans for your safety culture.
    • Create a process that holds everyone accountable for being visibly involved, especially managers and supervisors.
    • Establish responsibilities for each level of your organization. Each level should have more responsibility than the one below. The person at the top should have responsibility for everything safety related.
  2. Demonstrate that Your Organization Values Safety
    • Provide the time, training, resources and equipment to do the job safely.
    • Explain to your staff that there’s always time to do things safely, and it is never acceptable to work in an unsafe manner. Then, practice what you preach ­– show that nobody takes short cuts.
    • Discuss safety at the initial interview when hiring – setting the tone from day one.
    • Incorporate safety into quarterly and annual employee reviews.
    • Examine if you are inadvertently encouraging a workplace culture where safety becomes a lesser consideration, such as praising workers who get the job done by whatever means necessary. Instead, recognize and reward employees who offer suggestions for working safely.
    • Remember that incidents may happen. If you provide incentives for achieving zero injuries you may only be rewarding zero reporting, which can ultimately increase the risk of injuries.
  3. Create an Employee Safety Committee
    • Create a safety committee that will empower employees to co-lead your safety culture by bringing them to the table. The committee should be about a 4:1 ratio of line-level employees to management.
    • Engage the natural leader who is not already in a leadership position, ideally a line-level employee, to lead the committee.
    • Create a charter for the committee.
    • Allocate a budget for time and money.
    • Schedule regular meetings and take minutes and notes to track progress and follow up on projects and past decisions.
    • Consider assigning subcommittees to your most serious safety hazards.
    • Start with a quick win with a “low-hanging fruit” issue everyone can embrace and that can easily be obtained. Progress from there.
    • Management should act quickly on decisions and recommendations made by the committee. Quick action builds trust.
    • See more tips for creating a safety committee here.
  4. Establish Practices to Improve Safety, Specific to Your Business

    Every business looks for ways to achieve better results at a lower cost. At the same time, place a similar emphasis on seeking ways to eliminate workplace safety risks.

    • Manage safety just as you manage other important functions of your organization. Safety doesn’t just happen. It’s not a byproduct.
    • Create a Job Safety Analysis for your most hazardous tasks.
    • Create Standard Operating Procedures for tasks requiring specific steps and safety measures.
    • Spend time brainstorming safety ideas with workers and your safety committee and implement their suggestions.
  5. Perform a Hazard Assessment

    Not knowing what your exposures are makes it difficult to control them. A Hazard Assessment will give you an inventory of all the ways employees (vendors, customers) might be injured (and/or harm may come to your organization). These hazards might be within your control, or you may have no control over them whatsoever. This assessment will include the obvious things within the organization and facility, but it may also include external factors that are bigger than the organization itself – such as proximity to a busy street, an airport flight path, railroad tracks, large power lines, utility services infrastructure overhead or underground, a river that might flood or a potentially active fault line (earthquake potential), issues involving nearby industry, extreme weather conditions, etc.

    A Hazard Assessment is best performed as a team effort – different people notice different things after all – and may require outside expertise.

  6. The Five Steps to a Hazard Assessment

    • Step 1: Identify the hazards.
    • Step 2: Decide who might be harmed and how.
    • Step 3: Evaluate the risks. Use this Risk Matrix Tool to help you prioritize your risks.
    • Step 4: Decide on control measures. Adhere to the Hierarchy of Controls as much as possible when implementing control measures.
    • Step 5: Review your assessment and update as necessary. Your Hazard Assessment should be reviewed and updated every year or two.
  7. Adhere to the Requirements of the Montana Safety Culture Act.
  8. Consider Incorporating Safety into your Mission and Vision Statements

    Mission and vision statements are short, carefully crafted messages that communicate the culture and goals desired by ownership and management to all employees in the organization. The mission-vision statement package can also outline the broad strategies used to attain the desired culture and goals.

    • Search the internet to get some ideas to help you get started. Many companies have great mission and vision statements regarding safety.
  9. Set Clear Safety Goals
    • Set goals around positive actions / activities that improve safety. Make SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Avoid goals involving time without an injury, etc. – avoid the negative and award positive actions and measurable outcomes.
    • Embrace leading indicators, proactive measures that evaluate prevention efforts and can be observed and recorded to prevent an injury. Campbell Institute’s Practical Guide to Leading Indicators is an excellent resource.
    • Track the tangible, positive things you’re doing every day that result in safe work, rather than the negative indicators that may only signal failure (injuries). For example, track number of Job Safety Analyses, number of safety observations or hazard identifications per week, percentage of employees actively involved in safety activities, etc.
  10. Celebrate and Continue to Pursue Success

    Rewards are an engaging way to encourage workplace safety and can make a big difference in reducing workplace injuries. Giving small rewards regularly to employees who follow safety procedures provides them with recognition, which in turn keeps them thinking about safety.

    • Celebrate and reward your team when they meet goals.
    • Make your efforts public to keep employees motivated and updated throughout the process.
    • Use a newsletter, email, website, Facebook page, bulletin board, etc., to communicate victories.
Training Your Employees

Comprehensive training is a must for preventing workplace injuries. Following these guidelines will help you develop a successful training program, reduce workplace injuries and ultimately build a safety culture.

  1. Train Employees Comprehensively and Repeatedly
    • Establish training programs for new hires, specific tasks and refreshers.
    • Know the training requirements before exposing employees to the hazards of your workplace.
    • Make sure that all employees have access to – and complete – all training for their positions.
    • Document your training. If it’s not documented, it didn’t happen. Use a Training Attendance Sheet.
    • Create a training matrix for each position in your organization.
    • Train employees on ways to correct unsafe behavior exhibited by co-workers.
    • Train employees to properly receive constructive criticism – how to recognize the intent and avoid going on the defensive.
    • Avoid repetitive, mundane training as you cover your major safety hazards. The hazards are not likely to change, but you can keep your training engaging by using different methods, media, examples, guest speakers, etc., to illustrate the same point.
    • Have employees give training on the issues that impact them, enhancing learning and encouraging ownership of workplace safety issues.
    • Encourage safe behavior during employees’ off time as well. Don’t shy away from the occasional discussion of off-work safety during a safety meeting. An employee who behaves safely at home when nobody’s watching is likely to do so at work too.
  2. Meet Regularly on Workplace Safety Topics
    • Hold regular meetings to go over safety procedures and discuss ideas with employees to keep workplace safety top of mind. Remember to document your meeting with an Attendance Sheet.
    • Assign safety topics for employees to discuss to encourage involvement.
    • Utilize free safety resources on this website and OSHA Training Toolbox Talks in your meetings.
  3. Motivate Safe Behavior
    • Lead by example: safety leaders must exhibit safe behavior. Remember that actions speak louder than words.
    • Offer positive reinforcement of safe behavior you observe, particularly if it would have been easier or faster to do the task in an unsafe manner. Give verbal praise for safe behavior in reviews and in front of peers.
    • Create incentive programs that recognize and reward employees who demonstrate safe behavior.
  4. Respond to Unsafe Behavior Promptly

    Prompt attention must be given to unsafe behaviors. Ignoring unsafe behavior is essentially saying that the behavior is acceptable. Following this five-step method will help you avoid confrontation that can create defensiveness. If multiple workers are behaving unsafely, a toolbox talk / safety meeting may be appropriate to address the issue quickly.

    A Five-Step Method for Coaching

    • Step 1: Identify the unsafe behavior to the worker(s).
    • Step 2: Restate your concern to overcome objections.
    • Step 3: Inform them about (or demonstrate) the safe behavior.
    • Step 4: Check that they understand or ask them to demonstrate.
    • Step 5: Emphasize the importance of the employee’s safety to you and to the company.
  5. Empower Employees and Give Them a Voice
    • Provide employees room to get the job done and make their own decisions.
    • Give employees Stop Work authority. Any employee at any level must be able to stop work due to a safety issue. Consider incentivizing a Stop Work order to show that you value its importance.
    • Allow employees to train others on safety topics that impact them.
    • Encourage employees to give input on safety issues.
    • Provide different options for employees to submit their concerns or issues.
    • Provide an explanation of safety behavior concerns promptly and per your policy. A policy for acknowledging and addressing safety concerns should include a timeframe (e.g., an acknowledgment within 24 hours and a response within three days).
  6. Use Incident Reporting to Educate
    • Recognize each injury, close call and unsafe act as an opportunity to make a change and prevent a future injury.
    • Create and implement an Incident Investigation Report. This is an essential tool to help you identify root causes, put corrective actions in place and track them to completion.
    • Educate employees on the importance of reporting injuries (regardless of severity), near misses and unsafe acts or conditions.
    • Make it easy for any employee to report.
    • Incentivize reporting of near misses and unsafe acts or conditions. Prepare for an initial increase in incidents that had been going unreported. Eventually, near misses will level off and injury frequency will decrease.
    • Investigate each incident as though the worst-case scenario took place. Next time it just might.
    • Evaluate your incident investigation to ensure it is conducted properly.
    • View incident investigations as action planning, not fault finding.
    • Examine first why a safety management system failed when near misses or incidents occur. Don’t look to place blame, and don’t just look at what went wrong. When you recognize the hazard and examine the safety process, you will be able to find a way to control it.