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Linda MacLeod Brown of Cardeas Consulting discusses approaches to embedding a safety culture.

“Safety is our number one priority” … “safety is of paramount importance” …”excellence in SHE is a top priority for us”... “Safety is one of our top priorities” … Really?

I have seen how thinking in a new way about safety leads to communicating and leading safety in better ways, resulting in a greater chance of helping to build a safety culture that lasts.

Like it or not, we all experience how priorities shift according to business circumstances.

Values, as the priniciples and beliefs that influence behaviour, are more constant and rarely compromised. A company’s culture is sustained from their set of common values.

Safety culture assumes you already have compliance firmly in place. In a true, values-based safety culture, I believe the goal must be to move beyond compliance in:

  • your safety focus
  • how you think about safety
  • how you lead safety and
  • how you communicate safety

So, work on how to ensure your leaders buy into this and make it personal, talking about their safety values instead of the company’s priority on safety.

Here are some tips that I have found useful for beginning that process…

Leadership trust: In my experience, a relationship of trust is first and fundamental to building a safety culture. Behaving safely has to start, and be seen, at the top! Otherwise, you are facing an uphill battle, and unlikely to make a difference. If leaders are trusted, then people are more likely to follow their lead and also behave in a safe manner.

Take responsibility, not culpability, for the safety of others: There’s a difference between being culpable for bad decisions others may make, and taking responsibility for failings in our own leadership communication around safety. When someone cuts corners, you should ask yourself “Was there something in my leadership and communication that led them to think that behaviour was acceptable?”

Improve the quality of your safety engagement: Are you ensuring that safety-focused communication – safety meetings, toolbox talks, tailgate huddles, or pre-shift meetings – are engaging and meaningful for teams? Or are they just another tick-box exercise? All too often, I have seen meetings be read, not led. We can make small changes to lead these in a way that means every single person wants to take ownership for safety, and gets them actively thinking about it. Change the conversation to one that actually improves safety understanding and behaviour.

Build safety into every conversation: Are you integrating safety into all business discussions, not even just those on production, or separating it out in ‘safety moments’? Whilst these ‘moments’ may focus attention, briefly, they wrongly position safety as something ‘extra’ bolted on to a conversation rather than something that should underpin everything you do.

Connect safety to core values: Recognise the common core values people tend to embrace for themselves—think about how they behave differently with their families, spouses, children and friends—in a word, their relationships with the people they love and care about, who love and care about them, and who depend on them to make the right, safe decisions daily within the family.

The key points for engaging employees on safety are the same as for any issue, but I would suggest at the core, you:

  1. Know who you are talking to and how you are going to best engage them
  2. Embed your message into everything else going on - don’t make safety separate
  3. Find, and make the most of, opportunities to listen and learn from the workforce
  4. Keep it simple, consistent and fit for purpose.
  5. Be proactive in, and learn from industry co-operation – safety is beyond competitive
  6. Remember always to CARE

Summing up: If values are the heart of your business communications, then brand, which ‘encompasses a company’s values in action, to keep a business focused on the right goals, in the right way’ is its soul. I found that when you begin to look at it this way, brand has less to do with colours, fonts, logos or emblems, and is all about how you infuse each moment, every interaction, with the distinctive essence that defines your business.

I have seen that success in communicating issues of safety is not in posters about PPE or getting equal pegging with production figures at meetings, but in making safety a value that guides everything you say and do.

Help your leaders build your company’s safety culture through ‘living’ the brand. I have seen that leaders who believe in, and care personally about, safety as a value are followed by others. Then, the organisation builds a strong safety culture…and any vision of zero harm communicated becomes achievable.

Linda MacLeod Brown works closely with companies in transition, to help then shape their strategies and delivery plans and engage employees for sustainable change, particularly in safety culture and CSR.

[email protected]

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