4 Tips for Maintaining Your Safety Culture

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Team Voxel

January 31, 2024

Safety culture isn’t just a one-time thing – it’s something that requires focus and attention from every person, every single day.

Safety culture isn’t just a one-time thing – it’s something that requires focus and attention from every person, every single day. 

What you’ll learn: 

  • How to build a collective safety culture mindset
  • How to balance productivity with focus on safety
  • Tips, tricks and ideas for your safety rewards program
  • How to build systems that make safety culture part of everyday life

How to Build a Collective Safety Culture Mindset

Explore the crucial link between employee engagement and safety, and how fostering a collective safety mindset within a supportive work environment significantly enhances industrial safety outcomes.

We usually think of industrial accidents in terms of the mechanical causes: a part that should have been inspected had metal fatigue, a machine was overloaded, a hazardous area wasn’t properly secured, and an employee who noticed a problem didn’t speak up due to a "mind-your-own-business" culture. When all the factors line up in the wrong place and wrong time, somebody gets hurt: an employee was distracted, and they were struck by a falling load when a fatigued piece breaks.

It is easy to identify the mechanical causes of an accident – it is a lot harder to figure out what was going on in an employee's mind just before the accident. But digging into the social factors of an incident is just as important as the mechanical causes. 

Potential Social Factors of Safety Incidents

Employees who are frustrated or demoralized may be more prone to accidents, while those who are energized and motivated are generally safer. Research has shown that there is a strong relationship between employee engagement and safety, with engaged employees tending to be safer and safer employees tending to be more engaged.

If an employee is unhappy, they aren’t likely to be concerned with the effectiveness of their team and they're more likely to be disengaged on the job. When an employee feels mistreated or undervalued by their employer, the work relationship becomes strained, with the employee likely to be less willing to go above and beyond for their team. They may not even feel like a member of a “team” at all.

Safety Is Everyone’s Job

Safety is a team effort, whether it involves two people lifting a heavy object together, or one person steadying a ladder while another climbs it. Engaged workers tend to work better in teams and are more collaborative. They are more willing to work together towards common goals. They also feel a stronger sense of responsibility towards their co-workers and are more committed to achieving the team's objectives. The more engaged your team members are, the less likely they are to get into an accident.

A positive safety culture is just as effective as physical precautions in preventing accidents. A supportive work environment, characterized by trustworthy leadership, autonomy, and good co-workers, will dramatically improve safety outcomes in your workplace.

One important aspect of building a team-focused safety culture is being clear on the balance between productivity and safety. It might seem like you have to sacrifice productivity in order to be safer, but safer cultures are often also more productive in the long run because there are fewer incidents and less lost time.

Balancing Productivity and Safety 

Where short-term productivity clashes with safety compliance, you can bridge the gap by: 

  • Compensating employees with a safety-focused structure
  • Integrating safety protocols into time standards
  • Measuring safety initiatives

Safety Focused Compensation

Safety procedures can often slow things down over the short term in order to offer more safety and productivity over the long term. If your workers are paid more if they hit a productivity number, they may be less motivated to follow safety procedures that they perceive as slower and less efficient in their day-to-day. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that an accident couldn’t happen to them, or that they will do it the easy way “just this once”.

It’s up to you to demonstrate to your team that safety is not worth sacrificing for the sake of productivity. Emphasize the long-term consequences of ignoring safety procedures, and remind them that their families are counting on them coming home safe. 

In addition to emphasizing the long-term benefits of safety, implementing a safety rewards program is an important step toward creating a safety culture shift. Rewards, especially financial incentives and bonuses, can help make your team members feel like they are benefiting financially from safety procedures. Ultimately, the best way to get your associates on board with safety is to compensate them fairly for their hard work.

Integrating Safety Protocols into Time Standards

If you base your compensation on time standards, it’s critical to get a clear understanding of how your new safety standards impact how long it takes your employees to complete tasks. 

Talk to your industrial engineers the next time they implement a study for time standards in your work environment. If safety procedures are changing the average pace of work, then this should be reflected in the time standards that are communicated to employees. Your employees need to feel empowered to follow safety protocols without the pressure of unrealistic time restrictions. 

Measuring Safety Initiatives

A focus on safety has ripple effects throughout your organization, leading to a culture of improved performance in other areas. It’s critical that you measure the impact of safety initiatives on other areas, and that you start including more proactive safety measurement in your reports. 

That might include: 

  • Increase in PPE use
  • Decrease in improper bending
  • Safer use of vehicles

You can communicate to the rest of the leadership team that these numbers help the organization understand how we’re avoiding unnecessary costs and increasing productivity over the long term.

A leadership team that effectively promotes safety will also drive better performance in other areas that may otherwise be challenging to achieve. Because these results aren’t as “tangible” as productivity numbers, they may be hard to see at first—but they may have a far more profound impact on the success of your organization.

Designing a Safety Rewards Program

Explore the essentials of designing an effective Safety Rewards Program that leverages positive reinforcement over punishment, uses key safety metrics to establish clear goals, and offers varied rewards to motivate consistent adherence to safe practices in the workplace.

In order to establish a positive safety culture, positive reinforcement of good behavior and performance is critical. You need to emphasize what your workers are doing right and encourage them to do more of those things. Positive reinforcement creates a workplace culture with the best chance of consistently practicing safe behaviors. When you reinforce good behavior and performance with positive feedback, you motivate people to continue doing things right. 

One of the most effective methods of creating a disciplined and consistent safety culture is through a safety rewards system that establishes clear safety goals and tracks progress towards them regularly. 

Identify Specific Goals

The first step in designing a safety reward program is to identify the specific goals you want to achieve. You can work with your Voxel account executive to identify leading indicators of safety incidents in your work environment, such as bad lifting posture or vehicle stopping. The Voxel Incidents page will give you visibility into the specific behaviors you have flagged.

After you identify these goals, it’s important to communicate the benefits of these goals to your employees and the rest of the leadership team. For instance: 

  • “We’ve seen an increase in back injuries so this quarter we’re focusing on proper bending and lifting. Constant improper bending/lifting can put people in a lot of pain, and we don’t want that to happen to you.” 
  • “We’ve had a few near misses with forklifts so this quarter we’re going to focus on slowing down and stopping at corners. We want everyone to feel confident in forklift procedures so that everyone gets home safely.” 
  • “No pedestrian zones help keep everyone safer. If we can get our pedestrian zone violation down by x% then we will celebrate.”

Track and Reward Safety Performance

Next, you must develop a system for tracking and rewarding safety performance. The Voxel Analytics page can help you track compliance across different shifts within a single worksite, or across multiple worksites in your organization. Use the data from Voxel to set goals, identify trends, and reward top-performing shifts.

It’s important to clearly communicate the safety reward program to your workers so they understand how it works and how they can qualify for rewards. Whether your incentive is short term (one month to a quarter) or ongoing, you should provide information on the specific behaviors and actions that will be rewarded, as well as the criteria for receiving rewards.

Communicate about safety rewards as often as possible, especially during training sessions and safety meetings. Displaying posters or other promotional materials around the workplace can help remind workers about the program and encourage participation. Come up with a creative name for the program that everybody will remember!

Recognize Safety Success

A simple exercise you can give your site supervisors that can make a big impact on your safety culture: have each supervisor identify one positive safety behavior each day, and make a note when they see an employee doing the right thing. At the beginning of their next shift, give your ‘safe’ worker a swag item (like a branded sweatshirt, cooler, coffee mug, etc.) to reward their safe behavior. Explain to the whole shift the importance of that safety rule so everyone understands why it’s being rewarded.

You can practice this exercise with your supervisors every day, and give small rewards throughout the week. Company-branded merchandise is an affordable way to consistently recognize workers’ efforts. Food, pizza parties, or other treats like snack baskets or gift cards to local restaurants and retailers are all small ways to demonstrate your commitment to safety.

Example Reward Programs

Extra pay: You could offer workers an additional bonus or pay increase for meeting their safety compliance goals. This could be tied to a specific safety metric that is a high priority for your organization.

Massage therapy: A massage therapy session is often a welcome solution for aches and pains. If you have space, consider inviting a massage therapist to treat your top-performing shift. Alternatively, you could offer workers a gift card or voucher for a massage therapy session at a local spa.

‍Events: Tickets to sporting events or concerts can be a fun and exciting reward. This is especially appealing to workers who are interested in these types of events, and can be a valuable team-building exercise.

Professional development opportunities: Consider offering workers the opportunity to attend training or professional development workshops. This can help workers improve their skills and advance their careers, while also recognizing their efforts to prioritize safety.

The specific prizes or rewards that will be most effective will depend on your workforce and the specific safety challenges you’re trying to address. Ask your workers to get their input on which rewards they would find most motivating.

Building Systems for Safety Culture

In order to foster a proactive, collaborative safety culture, it’s critical to go beyond day-to-day work and think about systems. That includes evaluating routines, updating training programs, utilizing data, and enhancing workplace relationships.

A great safety culture is positive, proactive, and collaborative. Safety incidents can be the result of a bad actor or poor individual judgment, but more often than not, they are caused by systemic issues in your work environment. 

Evaluate Your Current Systems

Take a step back and evaluate the little things—what safety routines and procedures are in place? Is your organization’s training program effective at teaching good habits? Are you using data to measure progress toward your goals? 

Once you've evaluated your policies and processes, it's important to think broadly about safety trends. Review the times you’ve had serious safety incidents in the past—what could you have done to prevent them? Did your team members have the right training? Did they fully understand the risks involved with their job? Did they fully understand the procedures and implement them successfully?

Make Systemic Changes

The reality is that most safety incidents are a result of systemic problems: somebody didn't get trained the right way, or something in your process isn't working right. 

Fixing your safety culture will involve:

  • Implementing new policies and procedures
  • Updating training programs
  • Using data to measure and track progress

Most importantly, it will require a fundamental change in the relationships in your workplace, and the mindset of your team members. You can use the best practices for compensation and rewards in the last two sections to help implement your changes and reinforce your new systems.

Gather Feedback

A culture of safety includes the safety to speak up. It’s important for all employees to feel comfortable speaking up about any concerns they may have, and where the importance of safety is emphasized at all levels of the organization. This is a long-term mission that will have spillover effects throughout your organization: a company that succeeds at fostering a positive safety culture will learn the secret recipe for unifying their team around a common goal. 

Key Takeaways: 

  • Safety culture requires a collective shift in mindset for the entire organization
  • While safety procedures may cost time in the short-term, they make up for those costs over the long term
  • You may have to adjust rewards, compensation and expectation in order to reinforce safety culture
  • Safe systems mean that safety culture becomes part of everyone’s day-to-day routine