Our Safety Culture Change Approach

4 Ways to Transition from Compliance and Behavior to
Values and Habits of Excellence

A safety culture definition sounds simple -- the attitudes, beliefs and values that employees and managers have in common about their physical and emotional safety while in the workplace.

Most businesses and organizations want their employees to work safely. A thriving safety culture reduces risks and costs associated with injuries, employee turnover, poor product quality, lack of efficiency, low production and bad customer service. Unfortunately, most organizations do not know how to create a positive workplace safety culture.

There are 3 prevailing business philosophies about safety: Compliance, Behavior and Values.

Compliance driven organizations will obey the laws, rules and regulations to keep employees safe. These companies believe that injury prevention is ultimately the employee’s responsibility. Regardless of the work environment conditions, risk management, turnover, morale, or real and potential costs, Compliance driven organizations only do the bare minimum of what is required. This preference for short-term cost reduction while gambling with long-term costs and risk management infects most businesses. A Compliance driven company is reactive and views workplace safety as a program and a system for processing injury incidents that are inevitable. The EHS Manager in a Compliance driven company can be considered a “safety paramedic” responding to incidents when they happen.

Behavior driven organizations recognize that workplace safety culture is important to short-term and long-term bottom line results. They invest time and effort in helping employees to perform their jobs safely. Behavior-Based Safety (BBS) is not only a program, it is part of the company’s strategic plan. Behavior driven companies with effective BBS programs will reduce the number and severity of workplace injuries. However, at some point those improvements will plateau, because behavior is only part of the equation to a positive workplace safety culture. At a Behavior driven organization, the EHS Manager can be seen as a “safety cop” looking for employees who are not behaving correctly.

Values driven organizations want to eliminate all workplace injuries. Safety is a core value that is essential to how people work. Injury freedom through a positive safety culture will never leave the company’s strategic plans, similar to the value of an effective Total Quality Management (TQM) or continuous improvement philosophy. A Values driven company maximizes compliance and behavior, while adding the missing ingredients of environmental changes, teamwork, continuous improvement and effective communications, to name a few. The EHS Manager is a “safety leader” who facilitates the activities that drive the safety culture. In fact, every employee from the frontline worker to the executive can become a safety leader. The results are remarkable. All injuries can be prevented.

How can a company progress to be Values driven? The WLS Safety System guides client organizations in creating the positive workplace safety culture. It includes training and development, plus tools and tactics. But to move from Compliance to Behavior to Values, there are 4 Major Safety Culture Change Points that must occur.

4 Major Safety Culture Change Points

Change Point #1 – Executive Management Commitment and Accountability
Safety culture change does not have to begin with the top executive management. It can begin in a single plant facility, or even a single department within a facility. However, at some point decisions required to improve safety will affect production, quality and finances in the short term, even though the long-term benefits will outweigh the short-term costs. Injury prevention improves morale, teamwork and processes, which will in turn improve production and quality while reducing risk management and workers compensation costs. In a Compliance-driven organization, executives will prefer not to risk the short-term costs, and safety will not be a top priority.

At a Behavior-driven organization, executives and managers generally support the behavior-based safety (BBS) program. However, they may see it as a strategy that can be implemented for a year or two, and then it does not need to be funded because it should be complete and everyone should know how to behave safely. A positive workplace safety culture involves more than a single program, even though BBS is an important part. The safety culture is something that should never go away, it should continue to evolve and improve, similar to an organization’s core competencies.

To create safety culture change, an organization’s leaders must commit to safety as a core value, facilitate a development plan, and be held accountable for executing the programs that achieve the plan. Most companies jump straight to executing EHS programs such as BBS without a plan or a strong safety belief system. After initial success, those programs will fade away. For sustainability, positive workplace safety culture must be a core value.

Change Point #2 – Metrics and Recognition
If something is not measured, it is not happening. Just having accurate metrics is a good start for an organization in Compliance mode. Most of these compliance metrics count deaths, amputations and injuries incidents. Any actions resulting from these metrics are reactive. It’s too late for the employees involved. To change to a Behavior level, the organization must analyze and act to mitigate those incidents. In addition, a Behavior-level organization analyzes and acts upon first aid, near miss, and hazardous incident metrics. As part of the BBS program, work observations should help employees know safe work behaviors to keep themselves safe.

Companies on the forefront of positive workplace safety culture add another whole level of predictive metrics to act upon: safety opportunities, safety action team meetings, safety training hours, and employee perception survey results. These proactive metrics measure employee engagement in creating an injury-free workplace. We recognize and reward employees individually and as a plant facility team when goals are met in every metric measurement. There is a direct correlation between high employee engagement and low reportable injury rates. In addition, employees begin to watch out for each other’s safety, recognizing not only their own unsafe behavior but also warning others who might be working in an unsafe way.

WLS clients use Continuous Improvement principles to engage all employees through Safety Action Teams. Some are standing teams, some are issue-specific teams. We offer our own basic safety training to employees through webinars and other online learning platforms. And we use employee perception surveys to help employees think about their own involvement in creating the positive workplace safety culture, as well as to gauge how well their particular plant facility is doing.

Change Point #3 – Formal Mitigation Procedures
Most companies have standard operating procedures for production. Safety should have formal procedures as well, especially for incident investigation. An organization at a Compliance stage may or may not have a standard incident investigation procedure. Without a proper investigation, the root causes may never be discovered, corrective actions may not be implemented, and more people could be hurt the same way.

An organization focused on Behavior will have an incident investigation procedure and will analyze the root causes for incidents. The focus of the investigation will center on the affected employees’ behavior; what they did to cause the incident. Then the organization will change operating procedures to account for human error, or blame the employees for not following the correct behaviors. Any environmental or equipment causes may not be mitigated. A forward-thinking company at the Behavior stage will expand investigations to include near misses, because it realizes that more injuries can be prevented by increasing the data set of risky employee behavior, and changing that behavior.

To change to a positive workplace safety culture, a Values-driven organization must admit that many unsafe incidents are caused by a combination of factors in addition to human behavior errors. This organization accepts responsibility for every incident and strives to identify and mitigate every factor that contributed to the incident, so that no employee is ever injured in the same way ever again anywhere in the organization. Often, lessons learned from an incident stay in the facility where the incident occurred. Injury prevention should be shared through every level and operating division of a company. In addition, employees should be empowered to tell management about opportunities for safety improvement without fear of retribution. Management should be empowered to address those safety opportunities both financially and procedurally.

At EnPro Industries, whenever there is a reportable injury incident, the company conducts a standard incident investigation with a “hot seat” conference call of specific cross-function positions to review results and mitigation actions. Summaries of “hot seat calls” and near misses are discussed on monthly briefings attended by representatives from every operating division, who then communicate lessons learned to the plant facilities. These are just some of the formal mitigation processes that EnPro Industries uses to investigate, mitigate and communicate incident reporting.

Change Point #4 – Employee Engagement Activities
A truly positive workplace safety culture engages all employees, not only hourly workers, but also frontline supervisors, all the way up to the CEO. Many frontline supervisors resist safety efforts because they think that safety hurts production efficiency and that employees are injured more often because they are not taking responsibility for their own safety. Actually, in most industries, frontline supervisors’ injury rates are higher than hourly workers’ injury rates. Frontline supervisors are not as situationally aware because they are not in the work area every day. In a positive workplace safety culture, employees and supervisors look out for one another and keep each other safe.

A Compliance-driven organization believes that all employees are responsible for their own individual safety. The organization will delegate safety issues to a safety committee of select employees, which may not have any decision-making authority. The safety committee might organize an awareness event or training, but the event is not supported by the frontline workers or the supervisory management.

A Behavior stage organization works through a safety committee to train employees how to better stay safe through following best-practice behaviors. There may be observations, coaching sessions, training meetings and awareness events. Usually there will be some good initial success, but after a year or two the success stagnates. In this scenario there is no continuous improvement to build upon the behavior changes and repetitive coaching reminders.

All employees are engaged in safety activities in a Values-driven organization. Every employee volunteers to serve on at least one Safety Action Team. These continuous improvement teams are empowered to build a safe workplace with operating procedures and training opportunities. Special events such as Kickoff Days and Family Days promote safety and extend it to employees’ families and communities. Most importantly, all employees know that they are expected to speak up when they see an issue that might be unsafe and injure someone, whether that is a fellow worker, the CEO, a contractor or a customer.

EnPro Industries continues to build its positive workplace safety culture through Safety Action Teams, training and development, special activity days, and opportunity improvements. Our company is not perfect, there are still hazards to eliminate, and there are still best practices to implement. For example, one EnPro safety initiative is trying to limit single-employee load lifts to less than 35 pounds, because back injuries are one of the company’s most prevalent injury reports.

Making the Safety Culture Change

A culture is based on shared values, attitudes and beliefs. A culture is not real until actions that demonstrate it are seen.

To change a company’s workplace safety culture to be positive and supportive:

  1. executive leadership must adopt safety as a core value and support safety improvement decisions
  2. management must establish proactive safety metrics that help the company act on injury prevention opportunities
  3. all employees must follow standard procedures for incident investigation, mitigation and prevention
  4. supervisors must empower employees to be engaged through continuous improvement teams, special events and training

If your company is ready to take action and build a positive workplace safety culture, you can shorten your learning curve and reduce costs by using the WLS Safety System. We are here to help make the world a safer workplace.

Contact us below for more information or call us toll free at 844-264-2357 to learn more.