A strong culture of safety and preparedness in the workplace prevents panic-stricken, impulsive behaviors from employees. In the event of adverse workplace incidences involving co-workers or clients, culture encourages staff to remain in a state of readiness, act appropriately and continually improve responses that may save lives or de-escalate situations.
It starts at the top, of course. Senior leaders and influencers in the workplace must advocate for and support a shift in workplace culture through a clear and visible commitment to safety, and a steadfast investment in resources and training needed to bring about results.
Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” To promote an all-encompassing, active culture of safety in the organization, one must take a hard look.
Does the organization have a culture of safety?
If an organization is active in promoting a culture of safety, what does it do every day to continue to cultivate this culture?
What milestones are being used to actively assess the culture of safety?
Is leadership engaged with promoting it?
A best practice is to actively and consciously promote a culture in which all staff utilize methods of situational awareness and teamwork. This type of a culture identifies risks in the workplace and mitigates hazards.
And so it begins
Conducting an unflinching assessment of a business’s culture of safety is a critical first step. Completing a risk assessment helps evaluate workplace culture and identify all possible hazards the business could face. This assessment distinguishes the impact, and pinpoints techniques needed to mitigate identified risks.
Cultural norms are often difficult to fully comprehend. Gaining a clear, unbiased view of organizational attitudes and practices around preparedness is a critical first step. Strengths and weaknesses identified in a risk assessment not only offer a clear view of identified needs, but also offer a tangible basis for any recommendations needed to be made to executive leadership.
Senior management must, first and foremost, embrace cultural changes, which may be needed with regard to preparedness and safety. Many may not fully appreciate the role that a cultural dedication to safety has on an organization and its ability to prevent or act upon adverse workplace incidences. There must be a commitment to fully invest in programs, educate employees, and consistently communicate.
Greater success will be had if “Safety Ambassadors” are appointed. These individual champion safety and preparedness in the workplace and must be committed to help these concepts take root and flourish. Existing staff are optimal for this role. They should be well-respected and must be trained in safety and preparedness processes. These people should possess the right temperament: one which does not evoke panic or complacency, but empowers people to own their safety and thrive in this new culture.
Create the expectation
With universal executive buy in, it will be much less challenging to change organizational culture. One way to codify a culture of safety is training and education. When education and training are compulsory and are communicated as important by upper management, employees are far more likely to adhere. Executives must reinforce the concept of safety and preparedness in their every communication, making it ubiquitous: every opportunity to communicate safety and preparedness must be seized through any and all platforms used to engage your staff. If it is possible to develop a policy of incentives or recognition for teams or individuals who embody exemplary standards in safety, this too can expedite adoption and acceptance.
The New Normal
Across the organization, an emphasis must be made to “normalize” safety and preparedness concepts in everyday interactions. This requires some conscious effort, of course, but the more employees and managers discuss challenges in the workplace and the role that safety, preparedness and de-escalation tactics play in daily existence, the better.
Research shows that workplace incidents often occur after clear warning signs. Stress, depression and other issues can negatively impact staff. Promoting a healthy and open environment for employees to seek support is critical and prudent. In addition, open discourse about workplace stressors, coupled with de-escalation training to all staff, helps diffuse situations before they occur and keeps the topic of workplace safety front and center.
Careful use of language and tone is critical to successfully engaging staff. Using terminology or language that is alarming is likely to promote a lasting level of resistance. This can undermine efforts to adopt a collective mindset that makes employees open to the concepts of safety and preparedness.
Finally, the frequency of training, at appropriate intervals throughout the year, ensures continual education and awareness around the safety and preparedness. Frequent and consistent training ensure that even under duress, staff can act effectively in the face of a crisis. Rather than waiting for incidences to occur before communicating to staff, your best option is to already have these conversations.
When crisis do occur communicate promptly, openly and with as much candor as appropriate. The process of promoting consistent, concise and clear communications will not only convey relevant information, it builds trust and a sense of well-being – two key elements most would agree that are critical in promoting a sound and sustainable workplace culture.
Change is expected
One of the things we’ve learned about promoting a safety culture is that we must evolve our training content to ensure continued engagement and interest among staff. To adopt the latest best practices and evidence-based methodologies, it is important to be proactive in seeking out new information to update your training curriculum. Cultures shift and change with evolving norms -- and your organization’s safety and preparedness education -- should be no exception.
For those who embrace it, the concepts of safety and preparedness should be a way of life; embraced and accepted in the workplace environment as involuntary and habitual. But instilling a culture of safety is a complex and challenging undertaking. Attitudes and behaviors must change and everyone must buy-in to the process. There are likely to be fits and starts along the way and measuring culture change is often difficult at first. But with a firm vision, support from upper management and a dedicated team to oversee and reinforce implementation, your organization will begin to reap the benefits.