A few months ago, I wrote about some of the things to consider when building a safety program in my “Safety programs: Safety starts with prevention” blog post. Then I started thinking about the difference between a safety program and a safety culture.
What is a safety culture?
A program has a start and end date. A culture is an environment that has a philosophy that permeates the daily activities of the organization. Safety and health do not exist in a vacuum. Other aspects of the organization, including people and financial management, impact safety. Therefore, a safety culture must be a part of the overall corporate culture to be understood and accepted as a high priority.
Why is having a safety culture important?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s January 2012 white paper, “Injury and Illness Prevention Programs,” cites some interesting statistics.
- Every day, more than 12 workers die on the job — that’s more than 4,500 per year.1
- Every year, more than 4.1 million suffer serious job-related injury or illness.1
You can learn more about disability-related costs in one of my other blog posts, “The dollars of disability.”
Admittedly, such national numbers may not seem relevant to you. Perhaps you work for a small or medium-sized company. But if you are in risk, safety or HR, think of how much time and how many resources you and your organization spend on workers’ compensation claims. Just think how stressful it is on you and your team when a colleague is suddenly away from work for an undetermined period of time.
What a safety culture is not
A safety culture is not merely a collection of policies and programs. Things like an Accident Prevention Program (APP), Injury and Illness Prevention programs, Personal Protective Equipment programs (PPE) and ergonomic programs can be components of a safety culture and may even be a regulatory necessity. Such tools can help reduce risk and ensure regulatory compliance. These tools can be vital in building and sustaining a safety culture. But tools alone do not make a safety culture.
Elements of a safety culture
The following are commonly recognized elements required to create and nurture a safety culture:
- Commitment (buy-in) at all levels
- Treatment as an investment, not a cost
- Integration into continuous process improvement
- Training and information for all
- System for hazard prevention and control
- Blame-free work environment
- Celebrating successes
A stay-at-work program can be yet another strategy or tool to help build a safety culture and prevent injury and/or illness. A specially trained consultant on your team can help offer ergonomic intervention for those employees deemed “high risk.” Examples may include those actively treating for a medical condition or those with an active workers’ compensation claim that doesn’t (yet) prevent them from working. As always, reach out to your workers’ compensation and disability carriers to see what resources are available for your company.
To continue learning, check out some of my favorite safety resources:
- OSHA and state equivalent (L&I in Washington State)
- The American Society of Safety Engineers
- The American Industrial Hygiene Association
1United States Department of Labor. Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Injury and Illness Prevention Programs White Paper. January 2012. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/dsg/InjuryIllnessPreventionProgramsWhitePaper.html. Accessed July 2, 2012.