In this 3-part series, we’ll look at the concept of safety culture in the workplace and how your organization can leverage its commitment to safety to attract and keep talent in a competitive market.

Who is Getting Your Safety Message?

Safety is a fundamental part of every culture and has been from at least the dawn of recorded history. It is no great stretch to posit that our continued existence as a species owes at least something to our ancestors’ knowledge on what to do and what to avoid in order to live a long life and to have been able transmit that information from generation to generation.

It’s only been in the past few decades, however, that the term “safety culture” has entered into the lexicon. According to OSHA, “Safety cultures consist of shared beliefs, practices, and attitudes that exist at an establishment. Culture is the atmosphere created by those beliefs, attitudes, etc., which shape our behavior.”

So far so good. Based on that definition, it’s clear that every organization has a safety culture. We know that cultivating a culture of safety is an ongoing, organic process, and not one that can always be readily quantified. After all, while we could spot check people’s knowledge of a particular process or job routine, how do we accurately measure their attitudes, beliefs and values with respect to safety?

Perhaps the better question to ask: Is our safety culture as effective as it could be?

A robust safety culture might be easier to define by considering clear-cut examples of what it isn’t.

When a safety practice is successful, such as when the selection of the proper personal protective equipment for a specific task is accompanied by training an employee on its proper use, the benefit is typically identified and appreciated within the organization. But it might not necessarily become known to the “outside world.”

Conversely, asking an employee to perform a task with inadequate safety equipment would likely be viewed by anyone inside or outside that organization as a reflection of a poor safety culture. And since a cultural universal is that bad news travels fast, we can all read about apparent lapses in safety on the job daily in the news media, opinions posted on social media and job boards from employees (and former employees), and even on OSHA’s official website.

What messages is your organization sending about its safety culture?