Component 23 – 2
Search Newsline

Consider these two safety vision statements:

  • “On every project, at all times, safety is our top priority.”
  • “We make no compromise with respect to morality, ethics, or safety. If a design or work practice is perceived to be unsafe, we do not proceed until the issue is resolved.”
Both sound great on the surface yet company A has a Total Recordable Incidence Rate (TRIR) that is a full two times the national average for a construction company of their size and work type and company B has a TRIR of 0.20—95% below the industry average.

So, what’s the difference? One company has a climate of safety and the other has created a culture of safety.

Company A merely perceives safety as a priority, which means that other priorities—like schedules, cost overruns, etc.—can move ahead of it. Essentially, Company A’s vision establishes a safety climate instead of a culture—one that changes constantly and one where safety is important only when things are going well.

A true world-class  safety program makes safety the core value for the company and every decision, big or small, is based on that. In a safety culture, every near-miss or incident is considered a failure that must be remedied immediately.

As you can read in the first article in this series, the foundation of that culture is an uncompromising committing to achieving a zero-incident jobsite by a company’s leadership. But transforming a company from having safety climate into one where safety is the core value is an interdependent effort. It’s also about creating a sense of family, building relationships among our employees and instilling in them the belief that not only is every incident preventable, but that each employee is responsible to their safety and the safety of those around them.

Sounds great in theory, but that can get more complicated when you have 150 employees on 5 different jobsites and superintendents with 3 distinctly different leadership styles.

It’s true that transforming your company’s culture might require some big changes, but it isn’t difficult as you may think. In the opening example, Company B has 4,000 employee worldwide. They made it work by starting with a commitment from the CEO and senior leadership to sending every employee home in the same, or better, condition than which they arrived—a commitment that they consistently exhibited to all employees. Suddenly, the trickle-down effect means regional managers and superintendents see this commitment to safety as the core value and begin to use it with their crews.

The other important piece of this strategy is to focus safety rewards not on the number of hours worked without a lost-time incident, but on the individuals who stopped work when they recognized a hazard or who helped a fellow employee safely tie off. 

Take the example of Company B, which is Alcoa. When Paul O’Neill  took over as CEO in 1987, he said unequivocally that his core value was a zero-injury workplace.  But he needed to change the culture. So O’Neill implemented a routine at Alcoa that any injury had to be reported by the unit president to the CEO directly within 24 hours along with a plan to ensure the type of injury never occurred again.

Those who embraced the system and committed to zero incidents were promoted.  Eventually, Alcoa’s safety program changed from reactive to proactive and its entire culture shifted in an unexpected way—the keystone safety habits Paul O’Neill instituted not only improved safety but also streamlined the company’s manufacturing process and increased profits (and employee salaries). 

As a recap, here are some things you can do to create a culture of safety at your company:
  • Get a commitment from leadership so that their dedication to creating a safety culture trickles down to others
  • Make safety the core value on which all decisions are made (no matter how small)
  • Create a sense of family among employees and empower then to take responsibility for their own safety and for their coworkers safety
  • Make sure your rewards system supports your safety culture by focusing on rewarding employees for stopping work in unsafe conditions and not on the number of hours worked without an incident

This article is the second of a four-part series on achieving world-class safety written by ABC’s Director of Safety, Chris Williams. To learn more about ABC’s safety efforts, visit