Can Safety Change A Culture?


The biggest complaint I’ve heard from employees about safety is that the company seems to only care about safety when someone is injured and then the company’s response is to come down hard with reprimands even for minor infractions, along with more posters about safety, and then more talk about how serious the company takes safety.  Then, after a few days, it all slacks off until the next accident.  That’s how it is, things get quiet, production is humming along, things are going well in the warehouse, everyone gets comfortable and things get lax.  Managers are so busy putting out fires they walk by simple safety infractions like not wearing eye and hearing protective gear, without so much as a word and worse, their bosses ignore them ignoring  Some managers conveniently look the other way, so the operator can clear jams while the machine keeps running  just so they can meet that days production goals.  And then when an employee does get injured they all breath a sign of relief in private that it wasn’t on their shift but can’t wait to criticize the other poor manager for allowing it to happen.

My guess is that safety is not the only issue that goes through ebbs and flows in a company like this.  I’d bet the work stations become cluttered with scrap and unused materials since operators are not held accountable to clean on any shift until there’s a trip and fall.  That sanitation of the warehouse becomes lax with paper, plastic and spills remaining on the floor to be tracked by forklifts all over until there’s a rampant infestation of rodents.   The critical machinery is not taken down for total productive maintenance just run into total submission and breaks down only then having to wait days for parts to come in from worlds away.  Then the misery is continually passed on shift to shift, forklifts are not plugged in for charging, stations dirty, tools missing and then someone gets hurt and you know what is going to come down the hill.  I would also not be surprised to find areas throughout the infrastructure that have been left neglected, even to the point of potential disaster, with cracked pipe lines or exposed wires and poor ventilation shafts that have needed repair for months but have been put off to keep production going and then they wonder why people don’t take safety seriously.

How can safety be used to change this culture?  Before we explore that issue, I would like to say that no company culture will ever change without the complete unwavering support of upper management/owner.  Without that critical piece of the puzzle in place you’ll be spitting into the wind as no one will feel the need to change without the company insisting otherwise.  As an employee in this company you can make the focus more safety conscience in your own department and may find some other like thinking managers around the company for support but don’t expect others to follow suit.  If there is no incentive to change, it’ll be business as usual for them.  This is good since it means your staff will always wear their PPE, follow the safety rules, and plug in their forklifts because you’ll insist, but don’t be surprised when asked by you staff, why don’t they?

But If you do have the full support of management and want to change the culture you can’t do it with hanging a few banners or repeating some silly catch phrase.  In order for people to take it seriously and make those changes you must make safety a 24/7-365 awareness and accident prevention part of the fabric of the culture.


The best way to begin is management issues a note to all explaining it’s new commitment to safety  and outline with timelines what’s to come.  They will issue updates every two weeks on what’s been achieved and keep everybody talking about safety.  You can start a new excitement and purpose in the workplace and unite everyone in one cause.  This is also a good time to reach out to your insurance carrier and ask them about training for your managers on accident prevention and investigation and make the time for their training.  It’s going to mean extra hours for everyone in the beginning but then think of the saved downtime on production from accidents.  Form safety committees with management and regular staff to formulate policies, procedures, punishments and rewards as well as inspection teams and schedules.  Make sure to address those infrastructure items first and with a tenacity unlike before.  You as the company want to set the best example going forward and demonstrate that safety is our way.  These safety committees will keep people involved and can lead to quality circles and other increased back and forth communication (management-labor-maintenance) on ways for continuous improvement.  After all, who better for feedback then from the machine operators, who know the machines best.

I would also look into other disciplines that are out there to bring into your company to tie in with safety to keep it organized and clutter and accident free.  One great example is 5S system which is a way of organizing your work station to keep it neat and clean.   You can find lots of great information on this and other beliefs such as Six Sigma, Lean, Kaizen, Deming and other variations on continuous improvement.
I personally believe in common sense as a great tool, along with checklists and continued re-evaluation but strongly suggest you should use whatever works for you, no matter what it’s called as long as you all use the same language when discussing issues, problems or looking for root cause.

Present the new policies and procedures to the company and train, train, train.  As always document all training you do such as who attended and what was covered.  Post for all to see the repairs that will be made that week to infrastructure and equipment with completion dates and stick to it.  Even if you need to bring in outside help for a short while, it’s worth the trust and buy in you’ll gain from your employees.

Remember, safety shouldn’t be an after thought.  You can prevent accidents and also save money, did you hear that?  Save money!  Be safe, think safe.

3 thoughts on “Can Safety Change A Culture?

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  2. I agree that safety can help an organization change it’s culture. Most safety programs are dictated by company policies and pushed down to the team members. Organizations that develop truly “associate-led” safety programs can improve overall results by getting the support of all associates. I have seen organizations expand the function of the Safety Committee to include “safety captains” responsible for all the safety committee members on a given shift . These safety captains are hourly associates that are already on the safety committee or are passionate about safety. Allow the safety team to evaluate key processes and current policies that guide safety practices and develop summaries of what to look for in various areas such as proper lifting, equipment operation, etc. Once these specifics are developed, observation forms that evaluate the “preferred safety methods” for a given function can be implemented to get everyone on the safety committee involved in ensuring the whole team is trained and following the procedures. Allow the safety committee members to develop fun safety games and competitions within the workforce to build the culture and reinforce it on a daily basis. Allow the safety committee members to pick teams of co-workers and utilize the safety observation forms as a quantitative way of evaluating all associates and measuring team performance. I have seen the safety committees develop fun events such as safety football, safety golf, and even safety bowling within a distribution center environment. Make it fun and competitive and make sure there is a good method of measuring performance of the teams and sharing results with everyone. Most of all, it gets everyone involved and helps the associates lead the safety building culture. I was at a facility where we went from 24 OSHA reportable “minor” accidents in a year to ZERO accidents for over a year after re-engineering our safety committee and it’s mission. Management must support safety policies but figure out how your organization can maximize the day-to-day implementation of a fun, effective , associate-led safety culture! This team-building approach focused on continuous improvement can be carried over to productivity, service levels and other key metric improvement initiatives in time and can truly change your culture.


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