You are more than likely hearing the term “safety culture” pop up here and there, but do you and your employees understand what it means exactly? We’ve done a little digging to find out where the term came from and how it is applied in workplaces today.
It turns out, the phrase was first coined in response to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster of 1986 (source). In fact, most safety cultures grow because of major workplace incidents—employees and employers witness terrible tragedies and make a resolution to improve the safety in the workplace from then on. From this perspective, a safety culture helps to give safety issues the attention warranted by their significance.
So that answers the question of where the term came from, but as for the initial question—just what is a safety culture?—there are a few good answers.
Some people will tell you that it’s “just the way we do things around here.” That means that the workplace has developed a set of standards that the employees all agree upon and implicitly follow. It might not be an official rule or a safety regulation put in place by Human Resources, but it’s more so the way that the organization agrees to do things.
Others might tell you that it’s a set of shared values regarding safety in the workplace. This type of mindset works well with very engaged employees. It means that everyone believes in the importance of certain practices and will likely honor those commitments on a more personal level.
A Superior Safety Culture
Our favorite definition of a safety culture is a bit more complex. It’s a focus on attitudes rather than regulations, and it’s a team effort rather than an individual mindset. This means that employees and employers alike have a shared understanding that safety is a top priority in any workplace, and that just meeting the bare minimum standards is not the goal.
Employees can work together better with this mindset, knowing that their coworkers are looking out for the safety of everyone and not only themselves. The focus on the task at hand is improved because they don’t have to worry that they’ve put themselves in a dangerous situation.
A true safety culture is an organization that acknowledges the importance of safety in the workplace, motivates all team members to see the importance, and proactively works toward creating a safer environment for everyone. Keeping employees safe is a big job, and organizations with a truly strong safety culture are willing to take on that job.
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