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Creating a Positive Workplace Safety Culture

Blog Posts - May 21

Creating a Positive Workplace Safety Culture

Jennifer Stiansen
Director of Marketing
JLG Industries

What do workplace culture and workplace safety have to do with each other? A lot. If we think of workplace culture as a way of describing how things are done, then safety must play a critical role in the kind of culture that exists.

Although it can be challenging to think of changing mindsets, behaviors, habits and attitudes, creating a safe, positive workplace environment can do more than just help keep employees safe—it can help keep them more engaged, more productive and more invested in the success of the company. Here are a few tips to help you build a safer, more productive workplace.


1. Establish the right metrics.

The first step to any successful plan is knowing where things stand. A careful assessment of your organization can start with asking questions about systems and processes already in place, along with building an understanding of what safety metrics are currently in use. For example, if incident rates are the only measurement of safety, then the only actions being measured are those that happen after an accident has already occurred. A more powerful metric is one that measures preemptive activities—those steps taken to help ensure an incident doesn’t happen in the first place. Then, when a safety-related measurement shows signs of a problem, action can be taken before an incident occurs and productivity is affected.

2. Provide the right training.

Employees need to know more than simply how to use the tools of the trade. They need to know what actions and activities might lead to unsafe practices. Once understood, a trained employee is more likely to embrace workplace safety because they are more able to identify breaches in protocol by themselves—and the effects that these actions can have upon their own safety or those of their coworkers. Proper training also helps ensure employees understand how safety protocols help the bottom line (both for the company and for themselves).

3. Empower the right people.

And by the “right” people, we mean ALL people—not just managers, supervisors or safety captains. Every employee should feel a sense of both expectation and empowerment: an expectation that they adhere to established safety guidelines and empowerment to act when violations are witnessed. At this point in the conversation, it’s also important to recognize that managers and supervisors play a critical role, in terms of communication, feedback, coaching and affirmation. The leaders will set the tone—and even more so when it comes to upper management. Standards exist for a reason, and it’s vital that everyone understands safety is no more or less of a concern for anyone in the company than anyone else. 

4. Communicate the right way.

Every employee is a potential investment in the success or failure of a company. Engaging this human capital in the right ways can make or break the success of any program. And the core of this engagement is communication. First, it’s critical to lead by example. Nothing communicates more clearly than seeing how leadership buys into its own mandates—if they don’t see you doing it, there’s little reason for them to behave any differently. At the same time, regular communication can help increase acceptance and ensure employees feel they are both part of the change process and being kept in the loop. Monthly or even weekly discussions may be necessary to help keep teams engaged and ensure goals are being met. 

5. Create the right incentives.

Simply put, an employee who follows the right safety protocols should be rewarded for doing so—after all, they are potentially saving the company from significant loss in time, wages and productivity, raised insurance costs and more. But employees must feel comfortable reporting potential problems and have adequate systems and policies in place to ensure their job or status in the company won’t be in jeopardy for having reported an issue. Again, they are helping to potentially save the company time and money, so they should be protected and rewarded accordingly. 

Creating and maintaining a culture of workplace safety goes beyond OSHA standards, personal protective equipment (PPE), training videos, safety captains and incident reports. And exceptionally safe, productive workplaces don’t happen by accident (or as the result of one). Instead, they are woven into the fabric of a company as a fundamental part of the operation and as a critical component of its long-term success. The most effective workplace cultures aren’t the ones that are error-free. They are the ones that are relentless in their effort to learn and improve from mistakes as they happen—and, most importantly, that work to prevent them from happening in the first place. 

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