How to build a safety culture

The project of safety
Building a safety culture is not a safety function, but a project management function. Consider the following tools in managing a safety culture building process.
Assess: Assess whether your equipment meets the requirements of current and applicable safety and industry standards. Usually you may need to get outside help from professional organizations specializing in safety reviews of equipment. Compliance to the current and applicable standards represents the best due diligence and the best engineering practice.
Assign: Make specific work assignments and hold individuals accountable for certain safety objectives. They will become your safety champions.
Assign individuals to inspect equipment and work areas for problems such as poor lighting, missing guards or damaged equipment.
Assign ownership of an individual problem to an individual (who may lead a group in resolving it).
Assign individual safety ownership for equipment retrofits, and well as for purchasing new safe and compliant equipment.
Assign appropriate budgets so these tasks actually happen.
Train: Once you've selected your safety champions, you must do more than just tell them, "Now I am making safety part of your performance evaluation." You must train everyone that safety is equal to or greater than all other goals. Safety champions are teachers, but they are only as effective as their own training and the backing of management allow them to be.
Teach: Your trained safety champions will teach safety to the rest of the team.
Monitor: Check your safety culture progress by asking key questions. How are employees responding? How are your teachers carrying out their duties? Do they need more training? When did you last observe people working? Are safety inspection reports precipitating action? Is it easy to report unsafe conditions or equipment? Are you using outside experts to review equipment compliance? Are you ensuring that new equipment meets current and applicable safety standards? Are you replacing unsafe equipment? Are you rewarding your employees for safe or unsafe acts?
Recent studies show that in companies with lower accident rates, the personal involvement of top managers in occupational safety is at least as important as their decisions in the structuring of the safety management system (functions that would include the use of financial and professional resources and the creation of policies and programs, etc.).
The active involvement of senior managers acts as a motivator for all levels of management by keeping up their interest through participation, and for employees by demonstrating management’s commitment to their well-being.
The results of many studies suggest that one of the best ways of demonstrating and promoting humanistic values and people-oriented philosophy is for senior management to participate in highly visible activities, such as workplace safety inspections and meetings with employees.

Simon Fridlyand, P.Eng., is president of S.A.F.E. Engineering Inc., a Toronto-based company specializing in industrial health and safety issues and PSR compliance. He can be reached 416-447-9757 or For more information, visit


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