Building a safety culture or safety program: What's the difference?
March 20, 2023
By Mechanix Wear for the Blue Print
By Mechanix Wear for the Blue Print
The term “safety culture” is often used interchangeably with the term “safety program”. However, there are differences between the two.
A safety culture is a set of shared values and behaviors that guide an organization's response to safety concerns. It is an organization's culture with respect to safety.
A safety program, on the other hand, is a planned set of activities that are designed to help an organization create and maintain a safe environment for employees and others.
A company can have a great safety culture but not have any formalized programs in place.
Conversely, they might have very good programs in place but not the culture needed to make them effective.
What is a safety culture and how does it help?
For an organization to be world-class in safety, there must be an effective and positive safety culture built into the values of the company. Safety cannot be a priority; it must be a value. This is not a matter of semantics. A ‘priority’ will change, depending on the circumstances. A ‘value’ remains constant, regardless of the circumstances. If you can identify a circumstance in which it is OK to remove safe actions to correct a problem, you do not have an effective or positive world-class safety culture.
When implementing a safety program, it must fit within your organization’s safety culture. The program does not make the culture; the culture determines the program. Behavior-based safety was all the flutter 25 years ago. Though the concept was great, the execution was a disaster for most companies. The reason? BBS was sold as a program that could be adopted without regard to the culture, the management style, or the level of employee engagement. It became cookie-cutter, following steps and actions that soon became the output, without regard to the culture or system.
It is ironic that many employers still advertise safety positions with the desire of having BBS experience, simply because they don’t recognize it as a failed program. The focus is on what they want the safety role to do rather than be there to create a positive impact on the organization’s culture and its people.
Developing, implementing, and maintaining a positive safety culture requires employee engagement and participation, supervisor and manager accountability, and a positive recognition program that encourages safe job performance. This is addressed through integrating safety into all your processes, procedures, and employee practices so safety becomes seamless within every level of the organization.
A safety culture produces actions out of a sense of value and contributes to the overall safety and well-being of every employee. A safety program produces actions based on what to “do.” If the program is not connected to the culture, that program is nothing more than a waste of time. If that program is based on punitive actions, there will be no buy-in, participation, or engagement at any level.
Every employer needs a safety program, but it must be designed and implemented through the value of safety. A safety “program” you buy off the shelf from a vendor will die before it ever works. It will become another flavor of the month that every employee knows won’t work because it is not built for that culture.
You can get ideas and suggestions from others’ programs that you can “adopt” and customize to fit your needs that keep safety fresh and interesting in your organization. Implementing an entire program, however, that was designed and met the needs of a different organization will be disastrous for yours.