Much of the effort to build and maintain a robust safety management system is focused on written documents which outline for employees the step-by-step, rule-by-rule expectations of how they should behave. These include procedures, training, job hazard analysis, and many other forms of instruction. Why is it, then, that even companies with very mature safety management systems in place still continue to experience unwanted events and injuries? Why do the best safety improvement strategies and initiatives sometimes meet resistance and failure? The answer is that often times we fail to recognize and account for the underlying organizational culture. It is the culture that causes organizations to accept or reject change. It is the culture that influences employees' interpretations of the meaning of instructions and select behaviors they think meet the intent and are appropriate or acceptable in that environment.
Managing organizational culture requires constant and consistent reinforcement. The frontline supervisor is ideally positioned to greatly influence the culture. They set expectations, demonstrate behaviors and values, and reinforce employee behaviors and attitudes. However, many supervisors lack an understanding of this important responsibility. Supervisors often become so focused on ensuring the work is getting done, they fail to provide the leadership necessary to nurture a strong, positive culture.
In this paper, the author will review sources of information for the definition of safety culture and share thoughts on the development and implementation of a safety culture management strategy, including the importance of training and engaging front-line leadership. It will also explore the use of situational learning to create dynamic learning opportunities and a model the author has used to develop and engage front-line leaders.
It seems we often hear the term "safety culture" used, but rarely with any clarity as to the real meaning. We use it positively to indicate a low number of unexpected events or a high awareness of safety in the workplace. We use it negatively as a vague causal factor in injuries and unexpected events. It is the author's experience that the use of the term "safety culture" is rarely paired with an understanding of the desired traits or principles which make up the safety culture and contribute to the positive or negative perceptions and outcomes.