From 2015 on, an average of 13 workplace fatalities occurred each day. Although some incidents were unavoidable anomalies, many could have been prevented with the right safety initiatives. That’s why building an organization-wide safety culture is important — making safety a priority for everyone keeps workers safe and spares your organization the consequences of injuries and illnesses.

Here are five tips that can help you develop a total safety culture that’s engaging and effective.

Tip 1: Identify and track hazards

Acknowledging potential hazards is important in understanding how engaged your employees are with safety. This comes in two steps: hazard identification and near-miss tracking.

Hazard identification looks at all aspects of your operations and points out what could potentially be dangerous or go wrong. You can compare what your employees record as hazards with those found in your audits. The thoroughness of your employees’ observations is a good measurement of engagement: you can see how exhaustive their records are as well as how many risk assessments were performed during that time.

While near-miss tracking can be mandatory, how employees respond to a near-miss or hazard is a good indicator of engagement. Promoting near-miss and hazard tracking as priorities is a good first step in developing safety culture because it gets employees used to thinking about safety in everything they do.

Tip 2: Take audits seriously, but not fearfully

Audits are often seen as a pain point or something to dread, but they’re actually great learning opportunities that can help you build a safety culture. Through audits you can collect data on the number of non-compliances, the number of high-risk non-compliances, the average time of completion for post-audit corrective actions, areas of highest risk and more.

View these results as opportunities rather than fearing audits or using the findings as punishments. Engaging employees with audit results helps launch and refine safety initiatives in a more practically applied scenario.

Tip 3: Learn employee behavior and replace bad habits

Learning how your employees approach certain situations is very indicative of their views on safety. This is where the BehaviorBased Safety (BBS) approach comes in handy. BBS is an application of behavioral psychology where you observe and identify behaviors that contribute the most to risk and injury, whether preventing or causing. This proactive approach focuses on the processes, systems, best practices and activators rather than responding to outcomes.

Use the behavioral data to create specific and effective employee training programs. Training should promote safe behaviors and teach alternative methods to unsafe behaviors. Making sure employees are always up to date on training builds towards a safety culture. You can conduct periodic assessments via post-training quizzes and observations to determine how well the training was retained.

Most importantly, make sure that training is not a static process. Refresh old training and re-train every time a process changes, new equipment is introduced or job roles change. This keeps employees accountable, knowledgeable and safe.

Tip 4: Identify and manage risk

Risk management is present in almost all organizations, but using it effectively can help create a safety culture. You can use risk levels to make standardized safety programs. This lets you invest in preventive safety programs using risk as a tool for prioritizing.

You can then incorporate risk-based thinking into all processes. You can make operational decisions that promote low-risk behaviors and mitigate high-risk ones. This allows risk management and safety to go hand in hand in all areas of business.

For a more mature safety culture, use different types of risk techniques to approach risk from all angles. The proactive approach involves tools like the risk matrix and focuses on mitigating high-risk events before they even happen. Predictive tools like the bowtie model let you predict outcomes for potentially disastrous events so you can make contingency plans.

Tip 5: Use leading indicators to engage employees

Engaging employees with your safety plan helps them internalize safety as a personal responsibility. When everyone’s engaged, safety increases naturally. To engage employees, manage buy-in statistics like how many walk-throughs are performed or how many safety meetings were held and attended. Make it a company goal to improve those numbers.

To keep employees engaged in a safety culture, be sure to gather feedback. You can conduct surveys to determine the level of awareness and to see how engaged employees are with safety training. You can also share incident and hazard reports and audit results with employees. By including everyone in the process, it becomes an organization-wide initiative.

The most important factor for engagement is full communication. Employees can’t improve unless they have timely, specific and fair feedback from accountable leadership.

Case in point: Caterpillar Inc.

In 2002, Caterpillar Inc.,  experienced over 20,000 injuries with at least 63,000 lost workdays that drastically impacted business. In 2003, they launched the Safety Strategic Improvement Process (SIP) which included the following elements:

  • Enterprise-wide statement of safety culture
  • Global processes, tools and metrics
  • Top-down leadership of and engagement with the process
  • Clearly defined and linked roles and responsibilities
  • Clearly defined accountability
  • Consistent methods for establishing targets and reporting performance
  • Consistent criteria for prioritizing issues and aligning resources
  • Recognition for positive behavior and performance

These elements all worked towards a common goal: to drive down lost time and case frequency of injury and illness.

They executed the initiative through one-on-one interviews and surveys. The results were used to build an execution plan, develop training and workshops and create additional improvement projects. Since the launch, the company has saved $450 million in injury costs and has seen an 85 percent improvement of injuries, illnesses and lost time in the past 10 years.