The ultimate guide to workplace safety

6 tips to make your work environment safer

By Paul Marketos, IsoMetrix Director and Co-Founder

In the sea of worn out safety tips such as “be aware of your surroundings”, “take regular breaks” and “stay sober”, you cannot be blamed for thinking of workplace safety as a checklist of rules and regulations. Workplace safety is much more than that – and as an intrinsic part of the success of your business – should be built into the foundation of your organization.

Here are my six tips to do exactly that:

Safety Tip 1: Culture is paramount

Safety processes, rules and targets are important, but the most critical determinant of safety is the culture a company instils in its people. A strong proponent of this was Paul O’Neill, who headed up Alcoa in the late eighties and nineties. During his time in charge of Alcoa he reduced the worker injury rate to one-twentieth of the US average by focusing on what he termed keystone habits. He insisted that every injury be reported to him by the president of the unit where it happened – within 24 hours, and to include a plan of how a recurrence of such an injury was to be prevented. This forced all unit presidents to pay closer attention to the factory floor, and to improve communication and encourage ideas for safety improvement. Safety became entrenched in the company’s culture. Interestingly, this focus on safety had enormous benefits in regard to profitability too as the business benefitted from better communication and innovation, improved staff morale, less time lost due to injuries and more harmonious interaction with employee unions.* Get the culture right and everything else will flow from there. Someone once said to me: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast, and technology for lunch.”

Safety Tip 2: Leading not lagging

Running your safety program through a focus on lagging indicators has been likened to driving a car by looking only in the rear view mirror. Leading indicators predict the likelihood of an event. Close monitoring of indicators such as unsafe behaviors, maintenance of equipment and vehicles, audits and inspections and training helps to drive proactive prevention of safety incidents. Purely focusing on an end goal, like Zero Harm, can also drive inappropriate behavior. If incentivized by reduced injury or incident statistics, employees might collaborate to not report certain events or injuries, providing an inaccurate picture of workplace safety, and preventing future improvement from taking place. It is important to distinguish between negative and positive leading indicators. Praise, reward and reinforce safe acts and proactive measures, rather than focusing only on poor behavior.

Safety Tip 3: Words matter

To reinforce the message that yours is a company that cares about the safety of everyone who works there, some simple renaming can change people’s attitudes to tasks such as inspections or observations. So rather than a dry name like Site Observation Report refer to it as the I Care report. This makes more immediate the fact that these observations are being made because, in this company, we care about each other’s safety and welfare. Now, instead of it being just another task to be completed, the primary intention of the task, ensuring the safety of others, is kept top of mind.

Safety Tip 4: Focus on controls

Good controls prevent bad events. There needs to be continual monitoring to ensure that the controls in place are adequate as well as effective. Particular effort needs to go into identify which controls are critical and then ensuring that there is good visibility and systems around these controls so that any lapses can be quickly remedied.

Safety Tip 5: Standardize

Ensure that there is consistency across the organization when it comes to reporting methodologies and systems. Does one business unit tally falls from height and another falls from ladders? There needs to be a common safety language across the organization in order for meaningful analysis to be carried out, and lessons learned shared.

Safety Tip 6: Communicate

Modern technology makes communication around safety far easier than it used to be. Regular webcasts, at different times to suit different audiences, can be used to disseminate information such as new procedures, trends that have been noted, and to encourage ideas for improvement. These webcasts can then be stored as easily accessible videos for new employees or those who could not attend. People respond strongly to visual stimuli. Instead of describing a near miss, re-enact it in a video so that it becomes more immediate to the audience and can be used in inductions and safety focus groups. Tools like Chatbox can be used for regular Q&A sessions, tapping into the wisdom of the corporation. Regular safety meetings, and a safety minute at the start of all meetings also go a long way towards spreading good ideas and inculcating a culture of safety. *For further reading, see Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit”