Accident Prevention: What’s it Going to Take?

Adam JohnsenBuilding a Safety Culture into your Safety Program

by Adam Johnsen, ASP CHST

No one wants to see a coworker become seriously injured. Yet every year, millions of people suffer injuries on the job, ranging in severity from minor to life-threatening. Has our culture become so resigned to workplace injuries as an inevitable fact of life that we have abdicated our responsibility to prevent them? Instead of taking on that defeatist position, we have the choice to be more proactive and safety-minded in the culture of our workplaces and to turn this perception around.

A safety program outlines how an organization addresses safety compliance issues while a safety culture refers to their values and beliefs. Both of these require more than just a commitment by management—it also takes involvement by management. A well-established safety culture is set by management’s expectations and extends to all personnel.

How can you tell if you have an effective safety program? Ask yourself:

  • Are accidents seen as an unavoidable part of the job?
  • Are supervisors uninterested in safety or dismissive of the Safety Committee?
  • Are you addressing lagging indicators?
  • Is safety talked about only during safety meetings?
  • Is there any actual safety training?
  • Does management leave safety up to supervisors?

A safety culture starts with the belief that all incidents are preventable. Be proactive! Don’t just look at what has happened in the past. Instead, look forward and ask yourself how you can make forthcoming operations safer. Every new day and every new project brings a new set of hazards.

They say, “If you don’t like the weather in Colorado, wait 20 minutes.” Weather forces us to adapt to a variety of conditions, but whether it’s rain, hail, wind, snow, or sun—we still have to get our jobs done. In the face of these constantly changing hazards, safety should be talked about and taken into consideration before ever going to work.

shutterstock_368505233Management cannot just talk about safety. They need to take action to follow up with their words. If a supervisor tells a line worker that it’s okay to do things unsafely “just this once,” it sends the message that safety rules only need to be followed when they are convenient, even if that comment is followed up by “next time we do it the right way.” You should always do it the right, safe way, or not at all.

Utilize your safety committee to help get employees involved in identifying hazards. A safety committee generates input from all levels of the organization, making it clear that safety is a group effort. When structuring your safety committee, ensure there is representation from all departments so a constant message is delivered to every team. Collaboration between all supervisors and managers is necessary to prevent incidents.

The expectation at your district should be that everyone at every level is authorized and required to speak up when they see a potential safety hazard. Make sure that there is always a channel for employees to submit these types of concerns. If you’re concerned that some won’t feel comfortable speaking up, add an anonymous reporting box or invite employees to speak directly with individual safety committee members to get issues addressed with management.

Make safety habitual. Historian Will Durant said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” This certainly holds true for safety. The more we wear our personal protective equipment, keep work areas organized, and talk about safety in our operations, the safer we will be and on our way to having a safety culture.

Your employees are your number one asset. When someone is seriously injured it is not just the people within the organization that will suffer, but the people that they go home to as well. A seriously injured worker could find his or herself unable to provide for their loved ones, unable to participate in their favorite activities, or unable to complete even basic personal tasks. A seriously injured worker could be anyone at your district—including you. Safety should not just be a program that we follow to check a box, but a culture that we believe in.

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