Why a Safety Culture Makes for a Safer Workplace

Safety in the workplace was a major focus at the recent Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) Technical and Manufacturing Conference in Minneapolis. Two educational sessions touched on the topic and provided attendees with practical information to take back to their companies.

Chuck LeRoux, the director of corporate safety, security and disability services management at Andersen Corp., discussed the importance of developing a workplace safety culture during his presentation.

According to LeRoux, a safety culture consists of collective safety beliefs, socially accepted work practices and the level of risk tolerance assumed within a group. This can be affected by personal beliefs and the influence of others, such as workplace supervisors. A positive safety culture can contribute to improved employee morale, personal fulfillment, staff retention, and improved productivity and quality.

Next, LeRoux cited a study conducted at an American chemical manufacturing plant that examined efforts to move from a “safety program” to a “safety culture.” The company discovered that culture change is directly related to individual change, and unless managers are willing to commit to personal change, an organization’s culture won’t move forward.

Plant managers were trained and supported, and senior leaders worked on new ways of interacting. For example, they developed sample questions to guide the interactions between managers and employees. The results were impressive, LeRoux said. The company saw a 91-percent improvement in employee engagement, a 167-percent increase in production quality and an 83-percent decrease in reportable safety incidents.

LeRoux then discussed how his company, Andersen, worked to improve its safety performance.

Starting around 2000, Andersen was seeing an incident rate of 18.1 injuries per 100 employees, LeRoux said. To improve that, the company instituted a top-to-bottom revamp of its safety culture that carries the slogan “Every person matters … Ever incident preventable.” The company’s efforts included a Safety Engagement Leadership Forum (SELF), safety walks around facilities by the CEO and other executives, goals and awards, the embrace of Lean manufacturing principles, and investments in machinery and educational programs.

The results? An 87-percent reduction in the injury incident rate by 2017. It went from 18.1 per 100 employees to 2.7.

Changing cultures and attitudes around workplace safety was also the focus of a presentation by Donald Thuene of the Donnic Consulting Group. He said unsafe attitudes and behaviors are responsible for more than 90 percent of on-the-job accidents and injuries.

Thuene said most companies focus on training, PPE, procedures, observations and audits that form the basis for most safety programs, but they still can’t reduce accidents and injuries. The reason is the culture, or “the way we do things around here,” he said. In order to change the culture, everyone needs to be trained and everyone needs to be involved so that everyone benefits.

“If you’re doing great at safety, you’re probably doing great at production quality,” Thuene said, adding that companies that demonstrate strong commitment to safety outperform S&P 500 by 300 percent.

People take risks for specific reasons; i.e. to save time or because the safety equipment isn’t handy or convenient.

Changing the workplace culture can reap significant benefits, Thuene said. There’s an approximately 50-percent to 100-percent reduction in recordable incidents in the first year, and lost-time injuries generally drop 100 percent in the first year.

However, it take effort to change, and it also requires a total effort that Thuene called a multi-level approach. Such an approach would involve evaluating existing programs and improving them, training and involving the entire staff, reinforcing the new cultural norms through rewards, getting systems and structures aligned, and ongoing support of the programs.

“When it comes to safety, imagine how you would want your son or daughter to do this, and you’ll be significantly safer,” he said.

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