How do safety leaders and managers create a culture of safety? Knowing that safety is important is clearly not enough. Slogans like "Safety First" or "Target Zero" may be powerful and eloquent, but they typically don’t produce the buy-in that is necessary.

The only way to change a culture is to get an extremely high level of repeatable buy-in. That means the message from leadership has to be very clear and simple to implement. It also means you have to be realistic about what’s working.

Have you noticed that the job site with the best safety record is the one where the boss makes everyone feel valuable, the people seem to trust one another and everyone gets along well? While there may be a few exceptions, most research confirms that people make fewer mistakes when they feel valuable. They are more loyal and watch out for each other. They are consistently willing to do more of what they are asked to do. All of this results in dramatically fewer incidents and a true culture of safety. But how do you make that happen in your organization or at your location? Here are seven ways to achieve a culture of safety and reduce incidents:

  1. Beware of mixed messages. "Hey, you guys, be safe, but hurry up! Don't be so safe that we can't make any money!" The real message is: "Let's get it done before 5 p.m., but if you get outside the safety guidelines, rethink it."
  2. Make sure that the people around you understand that you have their back. They will be more likely to have yours. Watch your behavior and treat others with respect. Guess who will not have anyone rushing back into the burning building to save him? That's right, the guy who nobody likes.
  3. Be realistic about how people feel about safety procedures. If you have a process or situation that everyone makes fun of or complains about, look into it and make adjustments. There is nothing more dangerous than expecting people to be protected by things they obviously don’t believe in.
  4. Remember that many accidents happen indoors in office environments. Approximately 76,000 people each year are hospitalized from putting their feet on their desks and leaning back in a chair. Acting like a big shot is not only obnoxious, but apparently it's also dangerous. In addition, women in high heels who stepped from carpeted surfaces to hard floors had a surprising number of injuries.  
  5. Communication skills are the foundation of safety. Let people talk about what’s important to them before you tell them your opinions. People who feel heard are much more likely to listen to you. To make safety happen, you have to be influential enough so that what you say creates actions in others. If people see their input in your safety solution, they are much more likely to have buy-in and much less likely to be injured.
  6. Don’t tell the guys in their 20s how brave you were “back in the day” before modern safety equipment. You are your brothers' and sisters' keepers, and that especially means your younger brothers and sisters. On a job site, I once heard a guy in his 50s say to a group of people in their 20s, "You young guys have all this protective clothing and special tools. In the '70s, we were down in there naked with a Q-tip." Challenging someone's manhood makes you part of the problem.
  7. Be able to clearly explain the value of a safety procedure or policy in 30 seconds. People buy into what they understand quickly. The leading addiction on the planet is not drugs or alcohol but convenience. People will consistently abandon a safe process that's complicated for an unsafe one that’s not. Keep it simple. It does not matter how smart you are if nobody knows what you're talking about.

Whether you are a leader who is driving safety forward or just a person on the job trying to be good at what you do without being hurt, influence is required. Are you influential enough to make safety happen around you? Do you have the trust and the relationships in place to help safety concepts and procedures remain effective?

For some, it may be hard to buy into how important it is for people to have a supportive environment to do their job. You may think that people should just do what they are supposed to do and be safe, but in reality the overwhelming success of this approach is kind of like listening to NASCAR on the radio; You personally may not believe it makes any sense, but for some strange reason it’s still happening.

About the Author

Garrison Wynn helps people learn how to make the jump from being great at what they do to understanding and developing the qualities it takes to be chosen for the job. As a keynote speaker, advisor and entertainer, he has worked with some of the world's most effective corporate leaders and salespeople. He has a background in manufacturing, entertainment, telecommunications and financial services. For information on Garrison’s speaking or consulting, visit www.keynote-speaker-motivational.com/safety-speaker.htm.