What does a strong safety culture have to do with keeping your workers safe and improving your bottom line? A lot, it turns out. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a strong safety culture can reduce your injury and illness costs by 20 to 40 per cent. Given that employers pay almost $1 billion per week in direct worker's compensation costs, and lost productivity from illness and injury cost a further $52.4 billion every year, that is a significant saving.

The critical thing is to ensure the safety culture at your workplace is effective. That starts with assessing your safety culture. Once you've identified your culture, you can begin to make improvements to it. We've provided tips to help you do both.

How to Identify Your Safety Culture

Your safety culture includes the common practices, shared attitudes and perceptions that affect the way your workers, supervisors and managers approach safety. It's usually fostered by a combination of intentional actions and the unintentional consequences of attitudes and the actions of others. Many things can influence your safety culture, from leadership to logistics to workplace conditions.

A formal assessment of your workplace safety culture can help you understand precisely where your workplace stands in its collective approach to safety and more importantly, help you transform it. Whether you hire an outside consultant to perform this assessment or handle it internally, here are the steps you should follow:

Review Your Safety Program and Policies

The person or committee conducting the review should be familiar with all of the programs and policies you currently have in place related to safety as well as the roles and responsibilities related to safety. They should also review several years' worth of incident reports and look specifically for trends.

Tour Your Site

A site tour is an opportunity to see all the areas in which safety is a concern. However, it also allows you to see your people at work and view both group and individual behaviors related to safety.

Meet with Leadership

Take the time to brief your management team on the reasons for the assessment to ensure buy-in and to avoid any defensiveness. The goal is not to lay blame but to ensure excellence. This is also an excellent time to involve union leadership if you have a unionized shop. Ensure your workers are all getting the same message regarding the assessment: this is an opportunity to improve your culture, not a review of their behavior.

Survey Your Workforce

You can create a custom survey or use a generic model to measure safety perceptions in your workplace. There are plenty of options available online but if you do use a prepared survey, try to adapt it to your particular workplace to ensure relevance. If possible, provide time during work to complete the survey, as take-home surveys generally have notoriously low rates of return.

Conduct Interviews

Interview your workers, supervisors and managers individually and in groups. These interviews can help you go beyond perceptions to achieve a better understanding of your safety culture. They will also assist you in determining how knowledgeable or supported your people feel when it comes to safety. It can also identify what your people view as successes or failures and even the capacity of your organization for change.

How to Improve Your Safety Culture

Once you've assessed your safety culture, create a list of actionable Items.

Any report created by your assessment team should focus on actions you can take at your workplace to improve your safety culture, including a timeline for implementation. Backgrounders in the report should focus on organizational or operational issues that are currently impacting your safety culture. It should also identify potential challenges and supports for change.

Here are several ways you can improve your safety culture.

Create Buy-In

Safety plans only work if you ensure everyone is on board. That starts with your leadership.

Involving your workforce or union representatives in building and assessing your safety culture can also help ensure buy-in. Don't be afraid to ask for feedback. Two-way communication is key to building a strong safety culture.

Provide Training

Training shows that you take safety seriously and that you are committed to worker safety. It also, on a fundamental level, ensures your people understand the reasons for specific programs and actions, can identify hazards, and are fully aware of your strategies for mitigating risks.

Collect Data

Data takes the emotion and personalities out of safety discussions. Collect data on perception surveys, incidents, training, reporting trends and anything you can leverage to identify issues or improve your safety program and culture.

Make People Care

Consider tying safety to compensation or incentives. That could be anything from gift cards to free lunches for those who go above and beyond when it comes to safety. This approach fosters a "group think" where the entire workforce takes responsibility for safety.

Communicate Clearly and Often

Ensure everyone stays abreast of any changes to policies or procedures. Provide copies of these documents both electronically and in print. Consider weekly or monthly safety meetings and allow others to take the floor to lead safety discussions or to inform staff of specific safety concerns.

Make Reporting Positive Rather Than Punitive

A reporting process that makes an employee feel like a snitch or that results in little change can be incredibly damaging to your safety culture. Make it as easy as possible and ensure reporting is focused more on the safety concern than on individuals. Reward employees who report safety hazards and problems and ensure you act on their reporting. Consider providing a quick update to employees to explain the action you've taken on a report.

Your Safety Culture Is Key

Safety should be one of your most essential core values as a company. Your safety culture should reflect that. Creating that culture starts with an honest assessment of your existing culture and ends with a clear plan for improvement.