Creating and maintaining a safe work environment should be a priority of great significance for all manufacturers, but ensuring the well-being of employees on the job is an incredibly tall task.

Any effort undertaken to address safety should begin with an examination of company culture and its effects on employees. Since organizational behavior is shaped by shared beliefs, attitudes, values and practices, assessing where a company is at in terms of creating a culture of safety can help it determine what steps to take to develop and implement safety policies, prevent workplace injuries and ultimately improve its bottom line.

“Everyone needs to be committed,” said Carl Uhnick of Kokosing Construction Company, a Columbus, Ohio-based self-performing contractor with divisions in heavy highway, asphalt, utility and equipment. “A strong safety culture is going to have the single biggest impact on your reduction of injuries, more than anything else. Our culture drives our behavior, and our behaviors produce our culture.”

Why Safety?

Simply stated, safety is good for business. Every workplace injury – no matter how severe – comes with a cost. According to the Occupational, Safety and Health Organization (OSHA), it has been estimated that employers dole out approximately $1 billion per week for direct workers' compensation costs alone. Other direct costs associated with workplace injuries include medical and legal expenses.

However, manufacturers also see their bottom lines’ adversely affected by indirect costs related to workplace injuries. Training replacement employees, accident investigation and implementation of corrective measures, lost productivity, repairs of damaged equipment and property, as well as expenses associated with lower employee morale and absenteeism are all common examples of indirect costs.

Manufacturers have a vested interest in ensuring they emphasize the importance of safety while on the job. Accruing needless expenses due to preventable workplace accidents and injuries is something every company should work diligently to avoid. According to Uhnick, keeping employees out of harm’s way and making sure each and every one of them leaves work and returns home in the same shape – or better than when they arrived – should be a top organizational priority.

“Does everyone feel responsible for safety 24/7?” asked Uhnick. “If your people do not feel like they are part of the safety team, then you are not an elite-type culture yet.”

Factors That Affect Culture

A number of factors play a role in determining whether or not a manufacturer can establish a culture of safety in the workplace. They include:

  • Employees’ willingness to buy into practicing safe behaviors, their overall attitude and personal commitment toward safety
  • Management’s assumptions of their employees, what they do, and how they do it
  • Employee norms
  • Organizational values, policies and procedures
  • How well everyone within the company understands their roles and responsibilities related to workplace safety
  • Action or inaction on the part of management and employees to correct unsafe behavior
  • Established training practices related to safety

What Constitutes A Safety Culture?

A workplace where safety is a top priority is populated with employees who are quick to identify and address unsafe conditions or behaviors. In addition, said Uhnick, these employees are not only compelled to act when a potentially dangerous situation arises, they are also empowered to deal with the root causes of the issue.

Communication is also one of the most critical elements for leaders in building a safety culture. Those employed in managerial roles must ask themselves a number of questions to determine whether or not they are giving and receiving good feedback from their employees. They include:

  • How close are you to the people you employ?
  • Are you connecting with them on a regular basis?
  • Do you have good conversations with them?
  • Are you connecting with them prior to the beginning of a workday to make sure all is well?

Taking Ownership

Above all else, the key to successfully building and maintaining a culture of safety in the workplace is to set “clear, winning, unwavering goals” and then to develop leaders to serve as catalysts for achieving them, said Uhnick. Many companies, he continued, focus too much on trying to develop a roadmap to success, and they fail to adequately define what they actually want to accomplish.

Organizational leaders should put forth an effort to spell out specific goals, provide certain necessary details and – most importantly – inspire others to create the ideal culture of safety with them. Since it can be difficult to stay motivated to emphasize safety in the workplace each and every day, great mangers combat that issue by “going the extra mile” to reward safe behaviors and celebrate desirable safety results.

“Have you taken ownership and leadership of the scenario?” asked Uhnick. “Because most leaders aren’t willing to self-reflect enough to say, ‘I haven’t done enough.’ If you are a leader, do more.”

Culture Development

Successfully establishing a culture of safety is no small feat for a manufacturer today. Everyone in the company must be committed to both communicating effectively and working with one another to establish an environment where shared beliefs, attitudes, values and practices all revolve around safety.

Anyone who goes to work for a company is immediately affected by its culture, so it is up to top managers to communicate safety goals to incoming employees and serve as an example of how to attain them. While it can be easier to emphasize other organizational priorities, such as production and quality, it does pay – literally – to create a culture of workplace safety.

“It takes a clear message, teamwork, motivation,” said Uhnick.

“And the process never ends,” he continued. “It just keeps getting refined.”

Source: The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM)

This content was originally delivered as a CONEXPO-CON/AGG Education Session. USBs containing video recordings of all of the show sessions are available for purchase at