The importance of a strong safety culture during the pandemic

Winc Australia Pty Limited
Friday, 01 October, 2021

The importance of a strong safety culture 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 and everyone stays involved?

A strong safety culture can be defined as a culture 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 the things they need to do to keep themselves and others safe without thinking — it becomes second nature,” says Carlos Colmenar, Category Manager for Health & Safety at Winc Australia.

“It takes time and continued focus to build this type of culture. Safety culture relies on a collaborative effort between employee and employer,” adds Carlos. A few key fundamentals include:

  • a commitment to making safety a priority from leadership
  • 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

“When it comes to safety, management teams need to lead by example and set the bar high. At the same time, 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 or pain points that once you solve, can positively impact safety behaviours,” explains Carlos.

Managing competing priorities is part of all businesses, but the challenge of balancing productivity and output with safety during the pandemic is an important one for workplaces to get right. We have been presented with global supply chain issues with shortages, but also accelerated ecommerce. Restrictions placed on physical retail stores has seen many businesses and consumers move to online retailing. According to Australian Bureau of Statistics, online sales have steadily increased since April 2020, and in January 2021, sales had increased 62.8% compared to January 2020. This increase is undoubtedly putting pressure on logistics and warehousing industries where workers need to do more with less time to meet consumer expectations.

“It’s understandable that with added pressure to produce or deliver faster, you are also at higher risk of workers cutting corners, unless you reinforce what’s important. It really 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 or tedious processes that may slow workers down and to reassess resourcing,” commented Carlos.

The pandemic has also introduced additional challenges as another level of controls and safety processes needs to be adhered to and workplaces need everyone to do their part. “I think with the pandemic, it has shown how you need all links in the chain to work together and take responsibility. For instance, in warehousing environments, you need all team members to adhere to strict social distancing rules and regular testing, to keep everyone safe and operations running. This can be easier said than done when people’s behaviours are to work together and eat together during breaks and so on. The key here is to continue to reinforce the rules and help people understand why the controls are there,” says Carlos.

To help manage the health and safety of teams during the pandemic, for safety professionals, it’s key to continue to stay on top of recent developments, changing restrictions and government health advice. Following this, it’s crucial to review and re-engineer processes that will enable teams to continue to work safe and get things done. “I think it’s important to remember that safety plans, particularly in the current environment, are not set and forget and teams need to have access to the latest information, whether that is through an app or intranet or discussing the situation in team huddles and toolbox talks,” continued Carlos.

Another challenge is to build safety culture when using contractors or casual labour. Businesses across a wide range of industries are increasingly turning to contract hires and labour hire firms to manage fluctuations in their business, maintain workplace flexibility and cover specialised staff shortages. To ensure the health and safety of these workers it’s important to check that equipment brought by workers meet the appropriate standards for the workplace, that all workers are aware of the safety rules and that they receive relevant training. “Taking the time to provide regular training sessions and reviewing key messages with teams and anyone working onsite, can help to reduce the likelihood of injuries occurring, and also show commitment and care for the safety of workers,” says Carlos.

It’s always important to emphasise and reward the right behaviours. Keep employees motivated and updated on progress by sharing and celebrating improvement milestones. “Once team members are aware of the goals set, it’s important to share the good progress that has been made, what learnings have come from changes and to call out efforts and team members involved,” explains Carlos.

When workplaces overcome these challenges and engage their teams to stay safe, there are a lot of benefits from having a strong safety culture. Reducing the number of 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. In fact, indirect costs such as lost productivity, compliance costs and reputational cost are estimated to equal up to 10 times greater than direct costs. 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 does the right thing and know how to work safely is likely resulting in happier, safer and more productive employees and a better place to work,” says Carlos.

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