Investment in safety culture is crucial. Even with the right equipment, experience and systems, if your people lack the intrinsic motivation to take responsibility for their own safety, it’s not a question of if an incident will occur, but when.
How is safety perceived in today’s workplace?
Safety is difficult to see, except for when it’s been breached. More often than not, it’s seen as a cost of time, effort or money. In many organisations, safety is seen as something to be feared, where workers must comply or face the consequences.
Simply pop the word “safety” into a Google image search and you’re met with rows upon rows of warning, hazard and danger signs—anything that says “Follow the rules or else you’ll be in trouble, or get hurt.” So, it’s not hard to understand why this might be the general attitude that many workers have towards safety.
The impact of these messages is that we focus our people’s attention on what we don’t want, rather than what we do want. Typically, as a result, we find that safety is perceived as a burden, too difficult to control or out of a leader’s hands.
While workplace safety has generally improved over the past 20 years, the data suggests we still have more work to do. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 563,000 people experienced a work-related injury or illness in Australia between July 2017 and June 2018. And while fatalities and injuries are generally trending down, the cost of work-related injuries and diseases is increasing—from a total estimated cost of $34.3 billion in 2000-01 to $61.8 billion in 2012-13. But the cost is more than just financial.
According to Safe Work Australia, in 2020, 173 Australian workers were killed at work. This raises the question, what do we need to do differently to break through this safety plateau? More importantly, how do you—as a leader—take this opportunity to make a systematic shift around safety culture and “the way things are done”? At the end of the day, you have a responsibility to make a choice for change.
Should we be viewing safety as a way to avoid harm, or as a way to improve how a business operates?
Clearly, people don’t feel like things are moving forward when it comes to safety. This is reflected in our research that shows that teams have more confidence in each other than they do in leadership or their organisation. This is fueling an “us vs them” culture of blame and avoidance within less mature safety cultures. So, how do we flip the script and change the way workers view safety in the workplace?
Consider what would be possible if:
- we viewed safety as the answer instead of the problem
- we used safety as the vehicle to create an entire cultural shift within our business
- we used safety as a common language to unlock the true potential of our leaders and teams for greater business performance
- we used safety culture improvement to unlock discretionary effort of our employees, resulting in benefits across the broader business.
While at its essence safety will always be about avoiding harm, there is much more to be gained from improving an organisation’s safety culture maturity. Organisations with mature safety cultures are more likely to have:
- leaders who demonstrate strong leadership skills—particularly in the areas of communication, authenticity and trust;
- team members who accept responsibility and accountability for their work and work areas, demonstrate pride in what they do and go above and beyond the basic requirements of their role;
- an internally motivated workforce that acts to improve the workplace for all employees;
- effective two-way communication that occurs between leaders and teams, as well as between departments, sites or teams;
- increased discretionary effort by all employees, which translates beyond safety to other areas of the business as well.
It’s hard to argue that these outcomes are anything but desirable. Whether you’re looking to be at the forefront of your industry in every way, or simply a great place to work where your people return home safe and well every day, investment in safety culture is a must.