“A way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization” is one of the definitions that Webster’s Dictionary lists for culture. A critical component to this definition is the first segment, “A way of thinking, behaving or working”. This definition illustrates that culture is made up of both beliefs and actions. When considering this definition with regards to Safety Culture, it is important to understand that every company has a safety culture! Every group of people that work together have a series of beliefs associated with their work environment, including workplace safety. These beliefs can be both positive and negative, but they are the illustration of the safety culture for the work environment.

My job often takes me into corporate environments to analyze and discuss safety programs. The term safety culture is often flippantly thrown around in these conversations by executives, as if it is something that can be implemented when desired. Consistently in these conversations, I will mention that every company has a safety culture already in place, including their company. Often times, the culture that is in place is not the desired safety culture, but is an accurate representation of the beliefs of the employees.

If companies have not specifically tried to create a culture, than how are these beliefs developed. Roger Conners and Tom Smith wrote a book specifically on this titled “Journey to the Emerald City”. I encourage you to read it if you are focusing on your corporate safety culture. The key points of the book are that culture is created by 4 components: Experiences, Beliefs, Actions& Results. Conners and Smith bring to light a specific plan for changing culture in corporate environments. The critical component to changing a culture is to develop experiences that will change beliefs. Once the beliefs are changed, than the employees actions will represent the desired cultural beliefs, creating the desired cultural results. At the core of this philosophy is understanding that actions speak louder than words.

If a company recognizes that they want to create a proactive safety environment that listens to the employee’s feedback, encourages employee participation, and aims to generate the safest work environment possible by eliminating hazards prior to incurring an injury than they must create experiences for the employees that illustrate the company’s beliefs and the desired culture. Employees are not going to change their current beliefs that have been developed by years of experiences in the work environment just because the Management Team has a big presentation on safety culture and tells them the direction the culture is going. Culture is a way of thinking, behaving or working that is the result of experiences that employees have had. In order to change a culture, corporations need to foster experiences that will create beliefs that align with the desired culture. In order to create the above safety culture, the company must create experiences that make the employees understand that they care about what the employees say about workplace safety. Further, they need to create opportunities for employees to share their opinions. Lastly the environment has to positively encourage this feedback without the fear of retaliation. If this company simply stated that they wanted a proactive culture and encouraged employee feedback, but concurrently created policy that was threatening or an extreme hassle to report potential hazards, than the employees beliefs would be that the company says they want to know about potential hazards, but that is just corporate lip service. Remember, the specific experiences will generate the beliefs of the employee. Create interactions that will foster the desired safety culture and promote the desired cultural beliefs.

In summary remember that every company has a safety culture already in place. This culture has been created by the experiences and beliefs that the employees have already experienced. If you are going to try and change a culture, focus on creating experiences that will establish employee beliefs that fit the desired safety culture. Remember that actions speak louder than words!

Cited References:

Connors, R., Smith, T. “Journey to the Emerald City – Achieve a Competitive Edge by Creating a Culture of Accountability”Prentice Hall Press. 1999.