How to create a safety culture

Tragically, there were 194 workplace fatalities in Australia in 2021. The leading cause of death was vehicle collision, followed by being hit by a moving object, falls from a height, being hit by falling objects, and being trapped by moving machinery.

Safe Work Australia reported over 120,000 serious claims (injuries), resulting in 6.6 weeks of time lost and $13,500 median compensation paid per claim.

Poor safety has negative impacts well beyond those experienced by injured individuals and their families. They can lead to an increase in absenteeism, loss of productivity, poor morale, and organisations can be penalised with fines or closure.

Clearly, safety must be a priority for organisations across every sector. But policies and rules are not enough. Below, we explore the concept of a safety culture, some of the hurdles involved, and provide seven tips on building a safety culture at your workplace.

What is a safety culture?

A safety culture is defined as the way safety is managed in a workplace. Beyond written rules and policies, the success of a safety culture depends on worker beliefs, values and attitudes to safety.

Hurdles to building a safety culture

A set-and-forget approach to safety does not work. Creating a safety culture isn’t as simple as publishing and communicating safety policies. Some of the hurdles organisations face include:

  • Attitudes and beliefs are difficult to shape.
  • Employees not knowing what is expected of them.
  • Training that doesn’t stick.
  • A lack of support from the leadership team.
  • Employees feeling unsafe to speak up.
  • Failing to learn from mistakes.
  • Inadequate workforce verification and compliance checking.
7 steps to building a safety culture

1. Safety first and accountability

A safety first approach elevates safety to an employee’s number-one concern rather than an extra task. This means safety takes priority over any other consideration.

Safety champions can be valuable for embedding safety in your organisation, but be careful that everyone takes ownership for safety and that it isn’t seen as someone else’s job. Ensure employees understand that safety is everyone’s responsibility and that they are accountable for their own safety and the safety of their workmates. Eliminate the “I didn’t know” excuse for a safety breach by ensuring everyone understands what they need to do.

2. Support from the top

Even the strongest grassroots safety campaign will eventually wither unless it is supported from the top. Safety cultures need to be amplified and demonstrated by senior managers, including the CEO.

Senior managers can demonstrate their commitment to a safety culture by:

  • Encouraging and rewarding safe behaviour.
  • Sharing examples of safe behaviour.
  • Being clear about what will not be tolerated in terms of safety.
  • Addressing inappropriate behaviours or lack of action.
  • Conducting periodic safety inspections.
  • Wearing the correct PPE on-site.
  • Seeking employee participation to improve the safety culture.

3. Bolster training with ongoing communication

Failing to follow-up safety induction training with refresher courses and ongoing communication will lead to poor safety outcomes and make it difficult to build a safety culture.

Provide refresher courses, using quizzes to help target safety training. Communicate and reinforce your safety culture through regular or ad-hoc emails, memos, posters, safety talks, video refreshes, and celebrate safe behaviour.

4. Make it human

While stats can be powerful, they are also impersonal. Make safety human and emotional by sharing stories about how real people are impacted by a safety incident. Worksafe, for example, has created a series of videos showing the suffering experienced by individuals and their families after a workplace accident. They also show the trauma and guilt involved in being responsible for the death or injury of a workmate.

5. Ensure people feel safe to speak up

A safety culture means creating an environment where people feel they can speak up and challenge unsafe behaviours or attitudes in others without fear of reprimand. Provide reporting tools that are easy to use and anonymous if appropriate.

6. Gather feedback

Don’t wait until an incident occurs to create the motivation needed to drive safety improvements. Establish a continuous feedback loop to get employees into the positive habit of constantly assessing safety behaviours in themselves and others. Reward and encourage feedback, and be sure to praise any safety improvement ideas from employees, even if they are not implemented.

7. Enhance workforce induction and checks

Cited is a cloud-based digital platform that makes it simple to onboard and monitor your direct workforce, contractors, and suppliers to achieve total workforce compliance. This includes critical safety compliance including online health and safety inductions, refresher courses, and critical safety checks such as High-Risk Work Licence Checks, Electrical, Gas, and Plumbing Licence Checks, drug and alcohol screening, and more.