Safety at a high level is one of the few business concerns that applies unilaterally to everyone. Unlike other business metrics, safety can impact our lives both on and off the job. Humans have evolved and flourished based on the safety of their family, friends, and communities. To flourish in the business world, great organizations need to also evolve and elevate their cultures by making safety more than just a metric on a scorecard.

Culture and diversity

Culture is the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations. Our belief system is influenced by multiple factors such as where we were raised, our experiences, our family’s influence, and the society in which we were born. Being born in India, I have often witnessed safety taking a back seat. When I first entered the safety management world, I had to unlearn many of the beliefs and perceptions acquired while living in India.

Many multicultural organizations face these same issues when trying to maintain or improve their safety cultures. Resilient and strong safety cultures have the capacity to learn from this diversity and the ability to guide individuals down the safest path. One method for improving your culture and learning from other peoples’ beliefs is simply to have better safety conversations. Safety observations occur in many organizations and are often compliance-driven. However, to develop a better safety culture, take the time to understand the employee’s beliefs and help integrate those beliefs into the desired safest outcome.

Culture and instincts

All species on our planet are driven by instincts and learned behaviors. It is an innate instinct to avoid pain. It is not very difficult to sell employees the value of safety; you avoid pain. However, culture can sometimes counter our natural instinct and we learn risky behaviors. We only need to look at texting while driving to see how culture can negatively influence a learned safe behavior. Likewise, in some organizations employees also drift from learned safe behaviors, and will do things that are quicker, more comfortable, and convenient despite the risk.

For organizations to elevate their safety and flourish, they need to understand human instincts and not try to find fault with the employee. If an employee is doing something that is perceived as risky, why did that behavior make sense given the circumstances surround him? Did the organization make the safe behavior more uncomfortable, inconvenient or slower? What can we do from the system perspective to motivate the safer alternative?

Culture and coaching

For companies to evolve their cultures, leaders need to be seen as safety coaches not police. Organizations collect a variety of safety data, but often use this information to find fault. Safety observations are often completed after a risky behavior or condition is identifies. People are generally more motivated to achieve success than to avoid failure. So to elevate their cultures, leaders need to find opportunities to celebrate safety successes and not simply find fault. Leaders should also look for coaching opportunities to positively influence the culture and demonstrate commitment to safety.

We all have had the situation where sometimes we model risky behaviors unintentionally. I have been teaching my son the “three points of contact” method while climbing the stairs. One day, while climbing the stairs with an armful of groceries, my son was the coach and reminded me to use three points of contact. I put the bags down and took multiple trips using the three points of contact rule I taught my son. Likewise, within organizations we all need to look for opportunities to be good safety coaches.

Our actions speak louder than words. Practicing what we preach is the foundation where trust and confidence is built. Focusing on just one aspect of safety such as near misses or high-severity issues and missing an opportunity for commending a job safely done can damages the coaching process.

A culture of safety

Developing a safety culture is easy if employees feel they are being cared for. By taking time to understand their point of view and beliefs, organizations can foster a culture of understanding. While performing safety observations, take the time to understand the systems motivating safe and risky behavior and change the system, not try to find fault and fix broken employees.