Humans by nature are highly influenced by our environment and those around us. When entering a new workplace, we are likely to adapt to our surroundings rather than go against the flow, even if it means ignoring the rules that are in place.
This is why creating a positive safety culture is crucial in establishing lasting behaviours in our staff. If the majority of our colleagues are behaving safely and following rules, the rest of the workforce are likely to follow suit.
Why is a positive safety culture important?
If you are responsible for staff in your workplace, you have a legal duty of care to ensure their safety and wellbeing. Yet implementing rules and procedures are not enough. You must also ensure that they are being followed. If your workforce becomes resistant or complacent, your job becomes much harder.
Creating a positive culture will help you to meet your duty of care and provide peace of mind that your employees are working safely. And the great thing about having a strong safety culture is it is self-sustaining. New employees are likely to adopt safe ways of working, and your existing employees will require less supervision from you long term.
But a strong safety culture achieves more than just lower injury rates. If a workplace feels safe and secure, productivity and employee wellbeing are also going to be high. Employees have also proven to be more committed to company goals and work well together as a team in workplaces where a positive culture exists.
How to encourage a positive safety culture
Leadership style is key in bringing about change in the workplace. While leadership styles will differ depending on your own skills and experiences, you may find that taking a transformational leadership approach could have a positive impact in your workplace.
Transformational leadership refers to the idea of transforming employees’ way of thinking through inspiration, support and leading by example. A transformational leader will involve the entire workforce and coach them towards a new way of thinking and behaving.
Some ways of adopting a transformational leadership style include;
- Coach instead of instruct
- Appeal to group interests rather than self-interest
- Praise rather than criticise
- Celebrate success rather than focus on failures
- Train, motivate and encourage
- Build trust and create a sense of community amongst colleagues
- Listen and encourage open communication
- Involve workers in health and safety discussions, risk assessments, reviews etc.
- Adopt open body language, a friendly tone and a confident manner
Examples of transformational leadership
You are on a construction site and spot an employee carrying out work on a ladder rested against weak, plastic guttering.
- Ignore it. They know that the ladder shouldn’t be resting on unsecured surfaces, if the ladder falls, it is their fault.
- Shout at the employee in front of the entire workforce and discipline them for their actions.
- Tell them that the ladder shouldn’t be placed there and leave them to it.
- Pull the employee aside to discuss their actions. Inform them of the risks and find out why they were working in that way. Did they simply forget or was something preventing them from working safely? For example, did they feel pressured to get the work done or were they unaware that what they were doing was wrong? Show them an alternative placement for the ladder and reassure them that their safety is a top priority.
You manage a retail store and hear that an employee at another store has been attacked by a customer.
- Brush it off as a rare incident which won’t happen in your workplace
- Place posters in the staff room on handling difficult customers and email around a list of rules and operating procedures
- Bring your employees together to discuss the incident. Explain what has happened, why you don’t want it to happen to them and what they could be doing to prevent a similar incident from occurring. Create an open discussion to find out whether there are similar issues in your workplace. For example, do they ever feel unsafe in the store? If so in what situations/at what times of the day? Do they know how to signal for help if they feel in danger? Could they benefit from additional training? Ask them if they have any concerns or questions or need any more support from you.
Remote and lone workers
Transforming a work culture takes times and will come more naturally if you are frequently working alongside your employees.
However, if your employees work remotely, alone or across several sites, changing the culture could prove to be a longer process as there is less influence from colleagues and less chance to learn from example. While your interaction may be virtual, each of the principles above should still be put into practice. Coaching, training and encouragement can be provided over the phone, and meetings can be arranged virtually with other colleagues to initiate discussion and talk through concerns.
It is also important to ensure that other supervisors or management are committed to creating a positive safety culture. Receiving encouragement from all staff members will not only be more effective, but will communicate that the entire business is dedicated to the wellbeing of their employees.