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Culture can be defined as the behaviors and beliefs that are characteristic of a particular group. It is the culture that has a significant influence on the strategies and decisions — and their consequences — of that group. Just as the culture of Al Qaeda had an influence on the suicide bombers in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the culture in a workplace will influence the decisions of managers and supervisors in relation to workplace safety. Consequently, it is the likelihood of danger, injuries and loss that is affected by this culture.
Governments, independent bodies and institutions are persistent in finding ways to reduce workplace risk. Business owners often introduce measures to reduce workplace risk. However, unless the culture in the workplace is right, these introduced measures will have little or no impact at all. Therefore, it is imperative for the organization to create the right workplace safety culture that is practiced by all members of the organization from the highest level down to the bottom. Cultures are not created overnight. Neither are they created by one single action. Instead, they are developed over a period of time — sometimes weeks, sometimes months and sometimes years — and are established through a vast variety of ways.
An effective means of creating a positive workplace safety culture is to introduce programs and training for staff at every level of the organization. By ensuring all employees who begin employment are immediately trained in the policies and procedures regarding workplace safety and participate in programs that assist them in increasing their awareness of the importance of safety, they immediately have the sense that this organization places a high priority on safety. They feel that they are empowered with the knowledge of how to ensure their workplace is kept safe.
Complementing training programs, actual equipment and facilities that ensure the workplace is kept safe are also essential. By having the facilities available, staff and other members will feel at no disadvantage in keeping the workplace safe. Legal requirements also stipulate particular items that must be purchased to keep workplaces safe. For example, temporary fencing is required for certain construction work. However, by going beyond the requirements in providing additional equipment, the organization sends a positive message to the people interacting with them.
Unfortunately, rigorous training, innovative safety programs and fancy posters and slogans are often forgotten, and bad behavior quickly and insidiously creeps in. If this bad behavior is not corrected, a good culture can turn into a very poor culture. It is important that there are penalties for bad behavior to discipline people who may contribute to tarnishing a good culture as well as incentives for good behavior. This will encourage all members to continue to practice good behavior that promotes a right safety culture, not only due to the fear of punishment for bad behavior but also to realize that the organization is serious in its belief that workplace safety is important.
Complete participation is also essential. As humans, we are always influenced by our peers and the people we admire. Therefore, if managers implement safety procedures but do not follow them, or if supervisors or team leaders display a poor attitude toward safety, the right culture will never be created. However, if all employees can see a clear support of workplace safety from every level of the organization, the success in creating a right workplace culture will have exponential results. Actions speak louder than words.
Overall, it is clear that no strategies can be implemented overnight, and neither can only one be used. Rather, through multiple innovative ideas that are practiced over a long period of time will the right safety culture be realized.