When walking into a workplace, I take note of housekeeping, look for enthusiasm for the job (or the lack thereof) because I believe that these are strong indicators of if they are a pro-active and safety minded team. I also believe that this culture starts with management’s attitude and behavior. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines safety culture as “the underlying organizational principles, norms, commitments, and values related to the operation’s safety and health, as well as safety’s importance compared with other workplace goals.” Each company or entity forms its own values and, ultimately, its own safety culture. This culture helps define the level of risk that is within the company’s “appetite” – or how much risk they are willing to take on – whether they realize it (intentional) or not (no specific direction).
If you are part of the management of your company, you should have an understanding of the level of risk tolerance that your company is willing to support. All levels of management should be communicating the company’s goals and your support for these goals being reached and maintained. But it is also important to provide a direction on how to reach these goals. Failure to provide direction, information about purpose, or a specific path or steps on how the goals can be achieved can cost a business. The cost can include lower employee morale, poor decisions that do not line up with the company mission/goals, and decline in profit/gain among other negative consequences such as injuries and even loss of reputation.
According to Dave Fennell, Senior Safety Advisor for Imperial Oil Limited, and Mike Williamsen, Senior Safety Consultant with Caterpillar Safety Services there are factors that should be considered concerning risk tolerance such as the person’s ability to identify a risky situation and the person’s ability to understand that certain situations or actions are unsafe or risky. If they are educated concerning the identification of a hazard or risk and they understand what could happen, then what would their decision be? If the perception is that management will tolerate the risk or even expects the employee to take the risk, then the decision may be to take the risk. An example of this would be an employee who alters their electric pallet-jack so that it will continue to roll while they are gathering product to load on their pallet jack. Williamsen and Fennell also indicate that other factors affecting decision-making include overestimation of one’s capabilities, understanding the seriousness of the outcome, personal experiences, how familiar they are with the task, cost of non-compliance, overconfidence in protective layers such as PPE (personal protective equipment such as gloves), and the potential for profit or gain from actions.
Just like the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” it takes everyone on the team to “raise” the safety culture. A safe culture increases the chances that each worker can return home to their families so that less of that village is needed.