When we talk about the importance of a business’s culture, we tend to think about those things that make a workplace a good investment for the people who work there. But these days, culture works both ways. According to Dana Vorholt, Sentinel’s Director of Risk Management, culture is also key in elevating a company’s safety and loss control standards.
“Imagine that, as your boss, I give you a checklist of safety protocols to follow and I reward you for not having workplace injuries or accidents,” Vorholt said. “That old, top-down approach was never very successful, and in fact, was finally addressed by OSHA a few years ago for fear that it could discourage workers from reporting incidents.”
Rather, building a culture that inspires people to be safety conscious at work all day, everyday, regardless of who may or may not be watching, is by far a better strategy, Vorholt said. The problem is, when you say the words “creating culture” to most business owners and managers, you’re liable to draw blank stares. Vorholt, who spends most of his time working with clients directly on site, breaks the process down into manageable components.
The good news, Vorholt says, is that a safety conscious workplace is not overly difficult or expensive. It does, however, require equal commitment at all levels of the company and an emphasis on recognition over incentives.
“Sure, rewards are nice–gas cards, tickets to a show, that kind of thing,” Vorholt said. “But the power of recognition trumps everything. The significant impact that simple and genuine acknowledgments yield cannot be overstated.”
Vorholt advises clients to implement a “caught in the act” approach that recognizes positive behaviors, those daily acts and actions that keep safety in the foreground of every task and tactic. Culture grows when employees practice these behaviors with such regularity that they influence the daily habits of those around them. Soon, safety and loss control shift from a list of to-dos to a long-range strategic plan that requires surprisingly little oversight.
Once the beginnings of a safety conscious culture are sewn, Vorholt helps clients move to the next stage–sustaining it–which requires a bit of creativity and a lot of consistency. Vorholt recommends that clients start with a detailed assessment of their current safety and loss control program to determine what’s working and what isn’t, as well as what’s missing or being miscommunicated.
“Communication is key, particularly with regard to recognizing safety-forward behaviors in a way that values the contributions of team members at all levels of the company. Communicating the recognition in the right way is what inspires the employee to not only continue to make safety a priority throughout their day, but to encourage their fellow team members to do the same.”
Here, Vorholt shares his top 10 tips for recognizing employees and behaviors that inspire a safety conscious culture in the workplace.
- The safety committee should be comprised of executive, senior, mid-level and junior-level employees.
- Create an open forum to solicit employee engagement in the development of new and enhanced safety standards and practices.
- Use safety trainings as an opportunity to acknowledge and reward employee participation–not performance–and have employees train their fellow team members.
- Make safety trainings and other meetings fun by including games, trivia, good food, early dismissal, etc.
- Appoint safety committee members to positions of leadership on the committee. Recognize their contributions in a public forum, and with visibility. A t-shirt or lapel pin does wonders!
- Recognize employees who report near misses.
- Recognize employees who expose new and emerging hazards in the workplace.
- Recognize employees who develop new and/or innovative solutions to avoid or overcome hazards.
- Create an annual awards program with a point accrual system that both recognizes and rewards employees for a variety of safety-forward behaviors. Keep the awards small, but meaningful. For instance, an extra day or half-day of PTO; new safety equipment or an item for their office, etc.
- Recognize the year’s standout employee in an annual safety celebration ceremony.