Safety First: 6 Ways to Build A Culture of Accident Prevention

GettyImages-129944549-compressorUnfortunately, intensifying rules and regulations will never be enough to prevent safety failures from occurring and build a culture of accident prevention. Safety can only be improved with the deliberate creation of safety cultures. This investment can also have profound bottom-line results. It starts with shared beliefs and values, implemented by people, and ritualized through process.

Here are some tips to help you create a world-class safety culture in your company, a critical factor in reducing work-related accidents.

1. Listen to your front lines. Too often, we develop safety policies and best practices without the input of our front lines. They are our true subject-matter experts. They know where the risks lie and who may be performing their job duties in an unsafe manner. Let your front lines have input as processes are developed. The more they own the process, the greater accountability they will have for its execution. While it is not realistic to bring in every frontline employee, consider asking your team to select a handful of their “opinion leaders” to join you in the process.

“There are three types of accountability: individual, organizational and peer-to-peer. For safety excellence to occur, all three forms of accountability must be present.”

2. Tear down silos. Silos isolate departments. For purposes of safety, the most important silo to attack is the one that may exist between your operations and safety teams. In a safety culture, there is a clear recognition that operations are responsible for the execution of accident prevention. Your safety professionals can teach, coach, train and create accountability. However, only the people with their hands on the levers can actually execute on safe behaviors and outcomes. Don’t allow any operations team members to punt safety issues back to the safety department. Ensure mutual engagement.

3. Hire for values and teach the technical component. Start by hiring for the right values, motivation and behaviors. You send a loud message when you hire just for technical skills with no focus on cultural fit. Focus hiring efforts on employees that show they value safety as a core value, for that is something that’s harder to teach. Even if you need to hire someone with a specific level of skill and experience, you can always find a candidate who is both technically excellent and in alignment with your values. Lay several sets of eyes on a prospect. Those current employees who are most in tune with your safety culture can spot a misfit a mile away.

4. Maintain safety accountability. There are three types of accountability: individual, organizational and peer-to-peer. For safety excellence to occur, all three forms of accountability must be present. Individual means an employee understands the expectations and is responsible for executing to the standards presented. Organizational means ensuring the procedures and processes in place are effective, and if they’re not, revising them. Peer-to-peer accountability is when employees hold each other accountable for their actions. This can be the hardest to promote, but it is the most essential. Rather than moving an issue up the corporate ladder, stellar safety performance will occur when your employees turn to each other to promote positive behavior.

5. Don’t judge by severity. There is no such thing as a minor accident. Each accident must be investigated with the same amount of attention whether it was life threatening or not. A root-cause analysis is always essential. The minute your employees start to believe that an accident was “minor” is the minute they become complacent.

I use the following example in my trucking company. “Hey, boss. I backed into a pole. Why is that such a big deal?” My reply: “That pole looks to be the same size as a 5-year-old kid.  If you backed over a little kid, then what conversation would we be having? The failure is in the behavior. You didn’t get out and look before moving your vehicle. You just got lucky it was a pole and not a person.”

6. Good can be bad. Good performance and an absence of accidents can promote complacency, making you unaware of actual dangers or deficiencies. The tendency to get complacent is not an uncommon trait in humans, but if allowed to establish, it can destroy a culture of safety.

Complacency creep generally occurs silently and gradually. Vince Lombardi, a personal inspiration, said “perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” Regardless of how long ago our last safety failure occurred, as leaders, we must constantly drive home that zero accidents is the goal and provide continuous behaviorally-based training mechanisms so that our employees can improve.

When it comes to implementing these ideas, start by prioritizing them. Begin with easy-to-implement/high-value ideas. Safety is about behavior, and your role as a leader is to manage it.

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Brian Fielkow
Corporate culture and management advisor Brian Fielkow is the author of Driving to Perfection: Achieving Business Excellence by Creating a Vibrant Culture, a how-to book based on his 25 years of executive leadership experience at public and privately held companies. With a doctorate in law from Northwestern University School of Law, he serves as owner and president of Jetco Delivery, a logistics company in Houston that specializes in regional trucking, heavy haul and national freight.

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