Firefighters show up at a burning building and immediately know what to do. They look at the fire and make a judgment from their gut. Well, if you have sufficient years of experience, within the first 20 minutes you too can assess any company’s safety culture and make a gut decision.

You might be saying, “How can that be? There are hundreds of things that must be evaluated, scored and totaled!” Au contraire, little grasshopper. Sometimes, I think we are too detailed for our own good. We try to measure every aspect of the gnat’s eyelash when we would be better served looking at the big picture. There are only a few things that need to be assessed to determine the culture. If these fall in line, so will the others.

Here are nine items that help pinpoint a company’s culture:

1) Management accountability/commitment

Some key signs point to top management’s commitment to safety, such as:
  • Safety is fully integrated into the business process;
  • Safety reports directly to the executive level;
  • Losses are discussed at executive meetings;
  • The organization focuses on issues like ethical decision-making and pride in product;
  • Potential managers are asked specific questions to help determine their commitment to safety;
  • The annual safety budget is 2-5 percent of the total budget.

A safety accountability program should be in place that establishes goals; assigns responsibility for attaining those goals; measures progress toward achieving goals; and rewards or penalizes individuals accountable for established goals. A management accountability plan should include, at a minimum, allocating losses back to the originating business unit. Loss control commitment depends on demonstrated savings in costs, productivity, quality or legal obligation.

2) Risk management program

A risk management program defines the safety program elements and activities of the location. General policy statements on loss control reflect management’s positive attitude and commitment to safety. A written policy is distributed to supervisors and presented to new employees, reviewed annually, posted and generally distributed.

3) Employee orientation and training

A comprehensive safety orientation and regular safety training program is in place and functioning well. Training is based on an outline of objectives for specialized operations with periodic retraining. Job training includes safe job procedures, practice in skills and verification of learning. The program should undergo an annual review to update training needs.

4) Accident investigation

A good culture should have an accident investigation team that doesn’t focus on blaming the employees. This includes a strong root cause analysis process that points failures back to the company’s management system. The accident investigation system is fully documented, and corrective actions are reviewed by middle and top managers and followed up to completion.

5) Injury management activities

How a company manages employee injuries is a key indicator of its safety culture. Injuries and illnesses should be reported immediately. Quick and appropriate medical treatment — at a nearby clinic or an on-site pre-hospital care facility attended by EMTs or nurses — should be provided. The company should work with employees to get them back on the job as soon as possible.

6) Employee selection/screening

To maximize effectiveness, this is where human resources and safety meet. Proper employee selection and placement are vital if employees are to perform efficiently, without injuring themselves or posing a danger to others. Are potential employees asked specific questions regarding their commitment to safety? Screening should include job-related tests, past safety performance, work history, drug screen and background checks, including Motor Vehicle Reports (MVRs).

7) Standard exposure/hazard control practices

The company with a solid safety culture has all the attendant programs in place. Examine the table of contents of the safety manual — then talk to employees in the field to see if they can confirm such activities.

8) Housekeeping

Take a cursory walk around the facility and examine general housekeeping and maintenance of the building and grounds. Preventative maintenance schedules and other routine maintenance activities are good indicators of safety practices as well.

9) Financial strength

Say what? Yes, that’s right, financial strength. This can easily be an indicator of a company’s safety commitment. Many customers require specific minimum safety performance measures before work will be allotted to vendors. If you hear comments like, “I can’t afford not to be safe,” these are positive comments. But if you hear, “I can’t afford to do that,” especially for relatively inexpensive recommendations, beware that the safety culture is lacking.