Too often, health and safety regulations are seen as red tape requirements which must be adhered to from a legal standpoint, rather than being primarily about workers getting home safely. OHS Alberta requires compliance with provincial laws and regulations. Failing to act within these legal requirements can result in penalties, violation tickets or cessation of work orders. In order to continue to operate legally, workplaces must comply with legislation and industry best practice. While these practices are obviously vitally important to maintaining safe conditions for workers, it is unsurprising that the focus of health and safety can become ‘we must pass legislative inspection/audit requirements,’ rather than ‘we must keep our workers safe.’ Despite the pressures of adhering to legal requirements, it is important that companies ensure that their primary goal is ensuring workers’ safety. If this is made a genuine priority at all levels of operation, passing inspections/audits should be a bi-product which occurs, rather than being the priority. So how do we make health and safety culture really about health and safety?
Effective leaders should recognize that a safe culture drives a productive business, as well as ensuring worker retention and wellbeing. If the focus is getting workers home safely every night, this goal needs to be articulated as the reason behind workplace safety practices. It should be stressed to workers that inspections or audits are conducted in order to keep them safe, not to pass legislative requirements. Health and Safety meetings should begin with a discussion of why employees are there: yes, the bottom line is important, yes, having an income is great, but the most important part of ongoing operations is ensuring that workers are safe from injuries, illnesses and fatalities. Companies should take every opportunity to stress to workers that this is the first and foremost priority behind their practices. As a personal point, ironically, in my auditing experiences I have noticed that the busiest and most productive companies place health & safety as their top priority.
Another way to convey this priority to workers is to involve them in safety processes. Although strong leadership is crucial, safety requirements should not come ‘top-down’ from Health and Safety Personnel without any genuine involvement of workers. Instead, employees at all levels should be involved in creating a safe workplace. After all, no one has a better idea of front-line work tasks and the associated risks than front-line workers. Companies who don’t choose to utilize the expertise of these individuals are losing out on a valuable source of information which could be used to create a safer workplace. Reporting of unsafe practices should be celebrated, and a collegial response, such as the joint health & safety committee, be adopted to find solutions. Ways that workers can be involved is through regular, informal tail-gate meetings, ERP drills, hazard id reporting, incident reporting, scheduled safety meetings, and company town halls. Health & safety should be an ongoing conversation which all workers participate in regularly, without any fear of negative repercussions. Suggestion boxes and surveys are another useful way of acquiring feedback from workers on the safety or otherwise of workplace practices. This will ideally create an environment where workers feel that their contributions towards creating a healthy & safe workplace are genuinely appreciated and will be adopted with a view to maintaining their safety and well-being.
To summarize, leaders pondering how to make safety culture genuinely about workers’ well-being, the first step is to emphasize to workers that their safety is the priority which underpins all practices, rather than passing legislative requirements. Companies can demonstrate their commitment to this ideal by supporting health & safety reporting, conducting hazard assessments with workers, and developing safe workplace practices with their workers, and by valuing and enacting worker feedback on these assessments and practices. These principles ensure that health and safety culture within a company really is about workers’ health and safety, and not just about checking a legal box.