No matter how well you have designed, developed, and deployed the CSMS; it is destined to fail unless the underlying safety culture expresses real management commitment, tough-caring leadership, and genuine employee involvement. This module will briefly explore some of the effective strategies for improving the safety culture through leadership, commitment and employee involvement in worksite safety.
There is no single definition of “a safety culture”. The term first arose after the investigation of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 which led to safety culture being defined as “an organizational atmosphere where safety and health is understood to be, and is accepted as, the number one priority”. However, as we’ll learn, safety should not be considered a “priority,” but rather a “value.” So we still need to ask: “What is a safety culture?”
I think OSHA more appropriately defines culture as “a combination of an organization's, attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, values, ways of doing things, and other shared characteristics of a particular group of people.
A strong safety and health culture is the result of:
From the employer’s point of view, it’s something to be managed, but if you ask an employee to define culture, they will likely tell you it’s just…
“…the way things are around here.”
Effective safety leadership can and should be demonstrated at all organizational levels. Managers can demonstrate leadership by setting the proper example and organizing the programs within the CSMS. Supervisors can demonstrate leadership by directly providing employees the resources, motivation, priorities, and accountability for ensuring their safety and health. Employees can demonstrate leadership through personal example and involvement. Everyone understands the value in creating and fostering a strong safety culture within the company. We will discuss three leadership models below. Let’s start with the worst first.
Tough-coercive leadership: In this approach, managers are tough on safety to protect themselves: to avoid penalties. The manager's approach to controlling performance may primarily rely on the threat of punishment. The objective is to achieve compliance to fulfill legal or fiscal imperatives. The culture is fear-driven. Management resorts to an accountability system that emphasizes negative consequences.
As you might guess, fear-driven cultures, by definition cannot be effective in achieving world-class safety because employees work (and don't work) to avoid a negative consequence. Employees and managers all work to avoid punishment. Consequently, fear-driven thoughts, beliefs and decisions may be driving their behaviors. Bottom-line: a fear-driven safety culture will not work. It cannot be effective for employees and managers at any level of the organization. It may be successful in achieving compliance, but that's it.
Tough-controlling leadership: Managers are tough on safety to control losses. They have high standards for behavior and performance, and they control all aspects of work to ensure compliance. This leadership model is most frequently exhibited in the "traditional" management model. As employers gain greater understanding, attitudes and strategies to fulfill their legal and fiscal obligations improve. They become more effective in designing safety management systems that successfully reduce injuries and illnesses, thereby cutting production costs. Leaders displaying this leadership model believe tight control is necessary to achieve numerical goals. Communication is typically top-down and information is used to control. A safety "director" is usually appointed to act as a safety cop: responsible for controlling the safety function.
Tough-caring leadership: The most successful and effective safety cultures emphasize a tough-caring leadership model. Managers and supervisors are tough on safety because they have high expectations and they insist that their workers demonstrate the highest standards in personal leadership. Managers and supervisors are tough on safety because they care about the personal safety and success of their employees first. This is a self-less leadership approach. The tough-caring leadership model represents a major shift in leadership and management thinking from the selfish tough controlling model. Managers understand that complying with the law, controlling losses, and improving production can best be assured if employees are motivated, safe, and able.
Management understands that they can best fulfill their commitment to external customers by fulfilling their obligations to internal customers: their employees.
Communication is typically all-way: information is used to share so that everyone succeeds. A quantum leap in effective safety (and all other functions) occurs when employers adopt a tough-caring approach to leadership. Rather than being the safety cop, the safety manager is responsible to "help" all line managers and supervisors "do" safety. Line managers must be the safety cops, not the safety department. This results in dramatic positive changes in corporate culture which is success-driven.
You can find out more about tough-caring and other leadership models in Course 700.
The 5-STARS of Leadership: Below are the five key elements that help the supervisor demonstrate "5-STARS" leadership in management of the CSMS. The key 5-STARS of leadership areas are listed below.
You can learn more about this topic in Course 712.
Proactive vs. reactive safety leadership: Integrating safety and health concerns into the everyday work allows for a proactive approach to safety. In a proactive approach, hazards and unsafe behaviors are addressed before an injury or illness occurs. In a reactive safety culture, safety is not a problem until after an injury or accident occurs.
Value vs. Priority: Safety must be elevated so that it is considered a critical value as opposed to something that must be done or accomplished as priorities allow. How can you tell when safety is a value vs. a priority on the worksite? Simple: Values don’t change; priorities do, especially when the going gets tough.
Before you set out to create the world’s best CSMS, make sure that top management in your organization fully supports and has made a real commitment to your effort. But, what’s the difference between “support” and “commitment”?
Top management may communicate their support for safety, but the real test for commitment is the degree to which management acts on their communication with serious investments in time and money. When management merely communicates their interest in safety, but does not follow through with action, they are expressing moral support, not commitment.
So, what’s the secret in getting top management commitment to safety? The answer to that question is that management commitment will occur to the extent each employer clearly understands the positive benefits to their own success as well as to the success of the company.
Most employers will put time and money into employee safety when they understand the benefits in terms of how their commitment helps to fulfill their social, fiscal and/or legal obligations as an employer. Therefore, you should stress the benefits to your employer when meeting each of the three obligations. Let’s take a look:
The social obligation: Get management to come to the realization that long-term corporate survival depends on being a good “corporate citizen” in the community by doing whatever it takes to keep employees safe an and healthful at work. By the way, fulfilling this obligation is most effective in assuring the long term success for the company.
The fiscal obligation: Stressing this obligation can be quite effective. Managers will be motivated to invest in safety when they understand the financial benefits derived from effective application of safety programs. Emphasize the cost vs. benefits of safety.
The legal obligation: Place a lot of emphasis on this obligation when managers only want to fulfill the obligation to comply with OSHA rules. You need to be familiar with how OSHA works be sure to understand the OSHA enforcement process.
The key to employee involvement in safety is “perception.” What they believe about the company, management, and themselves is critical to a successful CSMS. To get employee involvement, we'll primarily address effective recognition because it’s so important in shaping employee performance; after all, we do what we do to either avoid negative consequences or to obtain positive consequences. Recognition helps ensure employees focus on positive consequences.
Recognition as a positive consequence can be quite effective in dramatically increasing daily involvement in safety.
Michael Topf, M.A., is president of the Topf Organization, a company providing leading-edge awareness and attitudinal and behavioral improvement processes for safety, health and environmental incident prevention.
Let's look at what Topf has to say about employee involvement in the CSMS:
What does it look like?
(Employee involvement) means participation by employees at every level. When used as part of the term employee ownership, ‘employee’ does not refer uniquely to line or hourly workers, but to everyone involved in the organization at every level and in every department. (Topf, 2000, p. )
What does it require?
For any safety, health and environmental improvement process to become self-sustaining and successful, it needs to become a seamless part of the organization. This is doubly true if the desired end result is employee ownership. To that end, the process and its benefits must be seen as having value for the employees, their families and others in the company.
Topf, M. D. (2000). The Importance of Site Manager Involvement. Occupational Hazards, 62(9), 31.
Because construction is such a hazardous industry, most employers understand the importance of a strong safety committee. This is one of the most important safety teams within the CSMS and a very important part of employee involvement.
At least annually the CSC should develop its own strategic plan with written Safety goals and objectives, and the tactics to achieve them. Monthly tracking of progress is also important. The safety goals and objective should be communicated to all employees.
Membership on your company’s CSC should include both management and hourly employees. Members should be elected, appointed and/or volunteers and should serve on the committee for at least a year or other specified amount of time. OSHAcademy courses 701 and 707 cover safety committee operations.
You can learn more about the importance of the CSC by taking Course 701.
Employees should participate in regular safety inspections (Daily/Weekly/Monthly/Quarterly) to help identify potentially hazardous conditions and unsafe actions and initiate corrections. Findings should be presented to the decision-maker who is usually the executive in charge of your company. Also send a copy of the findings to supervisors and safety committee for review.
Corrective action should be approved by the decision-maker and implemented under the direction of a designated line worksite superintendent, manager, or supervisor.
The employees in your company are crucial to the company’s success, so they should be encouraged to make safety suggestions to help improve a process, prevent an accident, or to make any improvement in the CSMS.
The suggestion program procedures should be implemented by a designated person who will be responsible for determining priority and the proper means of implementation.
Safety suggestions should be shared with the Safety Committee for input. A good idea is to have a suggestion box in which employees can submit suggestions. A better idea is to have employees give suggestions directly to their supervisor or safety committee chairperson.
Suggestion forms must be readily available if required. Actually, in a truly effective CSMS, there’s no need for a formal suggestion report form. An informal process may be more efficient and effective in identifying problems and solutions.
The employees in your company should be given an opportunity to provide input regarding recommendations on Safety products, procedures, and training as it pertains to daily work operations. For example, employees could be given some responsibility to test out products or conduct research to substantiate recommendations.
Employee input could be provided through the formal suggestion program, or informally. Make sure employees are recognized EVERY TIME they make a suggestion that results in some kind of improvement in safety or the CSMS – EVERY TIME.
Employees could also participate in a variety of ways such as; a trainer, inspection team member, or problem- solving team member.
Understanding the benefits will create a strong desire to improve the company's safety culture which is ultimately the most important outcome of an effective CSMS.
You will know when your company’s safety culture is successful when:
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