A resilient safety culture

May 28, 2018

The well-being of your staff cannot be sacrificed for other priorities such as production, profitability, and convenience.

As the director of health and safety for an AEC firm, I often find myself asking, “What is our safety culture?” and “What needs to be done to improve it?” Recently, I have been framing these questions around the concept of a resilient culture, i.e., a culture in which safety is a “way of life.” Hallmarks of such cultures are a shared sense of organizational pride and commendable incident rates.

A resilient culture means continuously improving processes, committed leader and employee interventions, and systematic auditing. However, getting to a resilient place can be a struggle, especially for firms where safety is an afterthought. Regardless of where a firm lies in its journey to a safer workplace, here are some key measures leaders in our industry can focus on to promote a safer workplace:

  1. Visible management commitment to safety. Does your staff know they have your support in saying no to unsafe work? Are you sure? It’s easy for staff to prioritize the obvious, immediate rewards of production, profitability, and convenience over the potential consequences of an unsafe act – especially those acts where workers have a low perception of risk. To overcome these strong motivational factors, leaders should clearly convey to their staff that safety is an essential component of the work and should not be sacrificed for other priorities. Don’t forget to “lead by example.” Actions speak louder than words and your staff will emulate your behavior.
  2. Establish clear expectations. In addition to visible commitment, leaders must establish clear expectations when it comes to safety. This includes establishing unacceptable levels or risk, lines of authority and responsibility, and safe operating procedures. Expectations and safe work practices should be memorialized in written documents and staff should be well versed in the requirements. Documented training establishes employee understanding. Accountability to these expectations should also be supported through positive and negative consequences. Keep in mind when considering negative consequences for personnel (i.e., disciplinary action), it’s important to first consider what operational factors may have contributed to that person’s actions, rather than defaulting to the convenient response of personnel error. Staff will be resistant to a safety program that appears to unfairly penalize its workers.
  3. Provide tools for open communication. Front-line workers and supervisors can be an organization’s best asset for hazard recognition and response. Providing ways to communicate and address safety concerns supports the resiliency of the workforce. Programs such as Health and Safety Committees, Stop Work Authority, near-miss reporting, and blame-free incident investigations empower staff with tools to report and respond to unsafe conditions.

So, what is your safety culture? Where do you want to be? Depending on where your firm lies, you may be prone to preventable accidents. Pursuing a resilient safety culture will mitigate risk and improve the workplace.

Kate McGee is director of health and safety at Pennoni. She can be reached at cmcgee@pennoni.com.

Subscribe to the electronic version of The Zweig Letter for free.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.