Strong safety culture: its importance during the pandemic
A strong safety culture is a key goal for any organisation, because every worker in Australia should always work safe. But with regulations increasingly putting more responsibility on the individual worker and additional pressures being brought on by the pandemic, how can safety professionals and workplaces ensure that safety is kept front of mind?
A strong safety culture can be defined as that which upholds an unwavering commitment to safety. Team members on all levels show unrelenting focus on creating and maintaining a safe workplace and this commitment is evident in the beliefs, values and attitudes of both the organisation and its people. You’ll know you have a strong safety culture when employees do what they need to do to keep themselves and others safe without thinking. It takes time and continued focus to build this type of culture, and relies on a collaborative effort between employee and employer.
A few key fundamentals include:
- a commitment from leadership to making safety a priority;
- clearly defined safety responsibilities for each level within your organisation, including policies, goals and objectives;
- good two-way communication on all levels of the organisation;
- providing ongoing training and support for all team members;
- continuous monitoring and tracking of progress;
- preventing incidents by analysing the working environment and hazards, and uncovering trends.
Management teams need to lead by example and set the bar high. Involving ground-level teams will help build commitment to the process and any changes. It may also provide greater insight into which control measures may be most effective. Often workers will share suggestions for improvements that can positively impact safety behaviours.
Managing competing priorities is part of all businesses, but the challenge of balancing productivity and output with safety is an important one for workplaces to get right. We’ve recently been presented with global supply chain issues, but also accelerated e-commerce. Restrictions placed on physical retail stores has seen many businesses and consumers move to online retailing. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in January 2021, online sales had increased 62.8% compared to January 2020. This undoubtedly puts pressure on logistics and warehousing industries where workers need to do more with less time to meet consumer expectations.
It’s understandable that with this added pressure, you’re also at higher risk of workers cutting corners, unless you reinforce what’s important. It comes back to that leadership commitment to show that working safely is more important than hitting the deadline. Another key to overcoming the challenge of increased pressure is to review manual processes that may slow workers down and to reassess resourcing. When workplaces overcome these challenges and engage their teams to stay safe, there are numerous benefits from having a strong safety culture. Reducing injuries and the cost associated is just one of many.
The most common workplace injuries are due to body stress and falls, trips and slips, and direct costs such as workers compensation claims and legal fees are just the tip of the iceberg. Indirect costs such as lost productivity are estimated to equal up to 10 times greater than direct costs. According to Safe Work Australia, from 2018–2019, more than 114,000 serious workplace injury claims were recorded in Australia, with the majority coming from agriculture, manufacturing, transport and warehousing industries. Aside from saving lives and protecting the operations of the business, having a culture where everyone works safely is likely to result in happier, safer and more productive employees and a better place to work.
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