Kevin Ian Schmidt

How to Improve Your Safety Culture

According to the Broken Windows Theory of Crime, if a broken window is left unrepaired, people walking past it will assume no-one is in charge. Within a short space of time, more windows will be broken creating a subtle indication that anything goes.

Crime is contagious and works like an epidemic.

So, if a broken window attracts more crime, does this mean that a workplace that is poorly cared for has more injuries?

And the answer is simple: yes.

According to a study by Dave DeJoy and Todd Smith from the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health, they found a well-kept site means safety is a priority.

Crime is contagious. So is not caring about where you work and the safety of your workmates. Organizations that allow untidiness and broken equipment are subconsciously saying that safety and equipment aren’t important. By fixing up the little things in your environment (e.g.: broken/unsafe machinery, PPE that needs replacing), you fix up the safety culture.

High performance companies keep their workplace cultures in check by balancing core areas. These are Unity, Compassionate Leadership and Communication. Together, these factors hit the sweet spot for trust (which is when people feel safe). Trust is integral for a high functioning culture.

As Simon Sinek says in “Start with a Why”, “only when individuals can trust the culture of an organization, will they take personal risks to advance the company. Great organizations become great because the people inside feel protected”.

This desire “to feel safe” is two-fold, it means feeling safe to excel and take risks in your career, but also knowing that you are protected from getting injured at work or from being bullied or harassed by colleagues.

3 Simple Steps to improve safety culture

To get to “Trust”, companies need to align themselves with the following three inter-related factors that are driven from the top, but are orchestrated at every level:

1.Unity– High performing workplaces are unified and have every-one working together as a team. There is no “Us versus Them” mentality.

Humans have a very strong and instinctive desire to be part of something bigger than themselves. It’s the same at a workplace. Staff want to be part of a group and a successful one that’s going somewhere. It’s important for companies to cultivate a strong sense of group identity. This means that all communication uses the terms “we” and us” and that clear goals are set.

Check Out: Be Aware of the Negative Aspects of Positive Reinforcement

2.Compassionate Leadership– We all need to feel loved and appreciated. It’s important that companies convey this to their staff. Not just through words, but through the right actions.

Staff and even visitors, to your workplace, will look for visible signs that staff are highly valued to the organization.

This means looking for evidence of:

  • A tidy, clean kitchen and toilet area,
  • Clean workspaces,
  • Operational equipment,
  • Clean PPE, and
  • Happy staff working together.

By ensuring a tidy work environment and operational equipment, leaders ensure that subtle messages are given that only productive and safe behaviors are tolerated.

Other more intrinsic signs are that staff ‘s personal needs are considered important and that they are listened to, if they have any concerns.

The EHS Center has multiple resources for improving your safety culture, go here

3.Communication– Finally, we have the final step that communicates the other two areas but in a transparent, predictable manner. This is where communication connects staff emotionally to the information by using stories and metaphors.

Communication must be regular and transparent. Woe betide any CEO who dares to announce that safety is important, but in a later announcement declares that due to poor sales, the safety budget is going to be cut. Messages must always be transparent and credible.

They must also include:

Unity messages that working at the company is a team effort, that group goals are achievable and that looking out for teammates is required, while being responsible for your own safety.

Compassionate messages that the company wants the best for staff, that staff contributions are welcomed, and that safety is a priority.

Communication is also open at all levels and staff can offer feedback that is actioned rather than ignored.

By ensuring that these three factors are in balance, organizations ensure that their workplace is highly functional and cohesive, with trust being the centerpiece of how the organizations operates.


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