“An organization’s safety culture is a lot like the weather,” says safety professional Gary Higbee. “It’s an invisible presence that surrounds everybody in the organization; it dictates mood and affects performance.”

Unlike the weather, though, Higbee asserts that a stormy safety culture can be changed. “I’ve seen it happen again and again in all kinds of industries and at all kinds of workplaces.”

How do these organizations do it? And how can you change your safety culture? According to Higbee, there are nine steps you need to take.

  1. Practice What You Preach (and Vice Versa). Safety leaders must remain dedicated to the safety message 100 percent of the time.
  2. Meet Regulatory Standards. Be familiar with all of the regulatory requirements and tailor your safety programs accordingly.
  3. Build a Base of Support. Enlist the support of like-minded people in your organization—those who understand the concepts of compliance, conditions, risk, reward and behavior.
  4. Promote the Company Line. Ask upper management to issue a written statement of support for and commitment to a safe and healthy workplace, and post copies of the statement around the workplace where employees will see them.
  5. Train Your Supervisors. Safety isn’t an ingrained supervisor responsibility, at least at many organizations; it’s something that requires deliberate training and explanation.
  6. Provide Management Meaningful Data. Report to management every day on matters such as critical safety concerns, injuries and near misses. Use your monthly reports to concentrate on long-term matters such as rates and activities like training, inspections and audits.
  7. Hold Management and Supervisors Accountable. Make sure that the individuals you count on to perform safety functions—such as employee attendance at training sessions, timely and accurate accident investigations, audits, etc. —are held accountable for the way they carry out those functions.
  8. Recognize Safety Achievements. Go out of your way to give credit to those who deserve it. Expressing appreciation is the best way to ensure that you get the same level of effort the next time.
  9. Gain Access to Top Management. To succeed, you need the support of top management. To garner support, you need to gain access to management. How? By providing the information management needs to stay informed. The reporting process naturally creates lines of communication, which in turn create opportunity to deepen communication.

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