Culture. It’s a word used frequently in nearly every workplace. A company’s core beliefs and values are manifested through actions which ultimately form the company’s “culture”.
In maritime environments, the concepts of safety culture and culture are not mutually exclusive.
Can you have a good company culture and a poor safety culture? Maybe.
What about having a good safety culture and a poor company culture? It’s unlikely.
AEU’s methodology of evaluating a facility’s safety program relies heavily on aspects of their safety culture to determine the program’s effectiveness. While all the factors we review are essential, we believe that management commitment can have the most significant impact.
Upper management drives culture and safety culture. Employees at companies with negative cultures tend to take more risks on the job, which leads to incidents and higher costs.
Employees want to be safe, but their risk tolerance will naturally increase as they become more comfortable with their job and the tasks involved. When they see that safety is important to the people who are running the company and making important decisions, it reminds them to take safety seriously as well.
Here are nine steps that upper management of your company can take to improve their commitment to safety in your workplace.
1. Be an active participant in the safety program.
The owner(s) and operators of your company often have incredibly full schedules. However, it makes a difference when they make time to walk the facility – even if it’s just once a week. These regular visits allow them to have discussions about safety with both supervisors and employees. If walking the yard isn’t possible, they can attend safety meetings or kick off any formal safety training discussions.
When talking to employees, upper management should show their full support of safety personnel who are the “boots on the ground” preventing incidents
2. Provide positive safety recognition to employees.
Whenever there is an opportunity to recognize an employee for working safe, the impact will go much further if management takes part. If you have a safety award program at your company, consider having an executive present the awards.
Another way upper management can provide positive safety recognition is by regularly communicating safety goals to employees and production managers. This ongoing effort will remind employees that safety is important to management all the time – not just at an award banquet.
3. Implement a written program that assigns safety accountability to each level of the company.
Accountability is a key part of any safety program, and it shouldn’t stop with employees or supervisors. Collaborating with upper management on a written plan that identifies the role each person plays in the company’s safety program will help ensure they are held accountable to their role in safety. By establishing criteria for evaluating managers and supervisors, it increases their participation in the safety program and outlines consequences for performance issues.
The written plan should outline who is responsible for annually reviewing the company’s safety program and making recommendations for improvement. This individual (or group of individuals) studies injury trends, findings from internal safety inspections, and recommendations from loss control partners to determine where opportunities exist. In collaboration with upper management, goals and objectives are established based on these findings, and a timeline for implementing changes is outlined.
Again, accountability is key here to make sure that specific individuals are assigned to making the necessary changes. Upper management must stay involved to add credibility to the process.
5. Support the safety program/department financially and actively support safety initiatives.
While it may be difficult for some owners/operators to walk the yard frequently due to their busy schedules, another way they can show their support of the safety program is by providing adequate tools and resources to the safety staff.
By engaging with the staff to learn what is needed to make the safety program successful, management can provide resources or funding for facility improvements, machinery upgrades, and so on. They can also ensure that the safety staff has opportunities for continued education, which helps keep the company current with new safety technologies and safety-oriented best practices for addressing injury trends.
6. Review incident trends on quarterly basis.
A review of incident investigation reports helps upper management identify and put corrective action programs in place.
If they are provided this report on a quarterly basis, it helps them become familiar with severity and frequency trends and work together with the safety staff to target areas of improvement. If management isn’t aware there is a problem, it’s harder to get their buy-in for a solution.
7. Address concerns of a multi-employer workplace.
At a given facility, there may be workers from several different employers. There needs to be a dialogue about safety between upper management of all the employers. Management can invite subcontractor representatives to participate in facility inspections, require that subcontractors participate in safety trainings and meetings, and involve subcontractors in incident investigations.
8. Perform facility safety inspections.
When a safety incident occurs, everyone should want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. This obviously involves a review of the variables surrounding the incident. A proactive approach to regular facility safety inspections is also important.
While safety staff members inherently focus on prevention, upper management can show their commitment to safety by establishing timeline and accountability for corrective actions. When unsafe practices, processes, or equipment are discovered, someone must be accountable for conducting follow-ups and making the necessary adjustments. Management is a key part of making that happen.
9. Ensure proactive hiring practices are in place.
It is essential that personnel can perform their job safely. When upper management prioritizes hiring the right people, it has a positive effect on the safety program. This includes making sure job descriptions clearly outline the physical capability requirements of the job, which can prevent incidents down the road. Companies should also have a thorough hiring process including formal job applications, one-on-one interviews, pre-employment drug screenings, and post-offer physicals. When management allows hiring practices to slip, workplace incidents tend to rise.
If upper management at your company is reluctant to become more involved in the safety program, remember that it may take time before they realize the tremendous benefit of showing their commitment to safety. Start small – ask them to attend your next safety meeting and let them know how much it would mean to the employees to hear from them.
Try to establish a dialogue with them where you speak their “language”, that is, make the connection between safety and profitability. Incident prevention to allow employees to have a safe place to work. This goal will help the company’s bottom line. An incident-free workplace is a productive workplace, and management involvement is vital.
John Bloess joined The American Equity Underwriters in 2002. He serves as a Loss Control Manager. From 2007 – 2012, John worked for the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) as their Corporate Safety and Loss Control Manager, returning to AEU in 2012. Earlier in his career, John developed a strong background in marine cargo handling during his tenure with a large stevedoring company, where he served as the Southeast Regional Director of Loss Control.
John earned his bachelor’s degree from Texas State University and holds a Certificate of Industrial Safety and Health from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is a current member of American Society of Safety Engineers and the Savannah Propeller Club.