The tourism and hospitality industry has made real headway in recent decades to reduce injuries and illness. But there’s always room for improvement say health and safety experts, who now advocate cultivating a “safety culture.” Nailing down what that means, however, is a little like nailing jello to a wall. It’s not easy to grasp.
Unlike more tangible health and safety concepts, there isn’t one agreed-upon definition. Confusion over what safety culture is and how to achieve it has made it easer for some to adopt a superficial view of the concept. Mentioning “safety” in a mission statement, for example, doesn’t mean safety is part of the organizational culture.
Still, experts agree on certain crucial characteristics. And there are concrete steps all organizations, big or small, can take to move toward achieving a genuine safety culture, one that goes beyond lip service.
- Organization-wide engagement: According to experts, “culture” refers to the collective values of an organization. Where a safety culture exists, management and employees share the same beliefs about safety. Everyone feels accountable for their own safety and that of the entire organization.
- Willingness to learn from mistakes: Achieving a safety culture isn’t just about achieving zero injuries. It’s about doing the right thing when incidents do occur. There has to be a demonstrated willingness at every level of the organization to learn from mistakes and take measures to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Start with these steps
- Stack the deck with safety-minded new hires: Incorporate safety screening in your interview process and choose candidates who are safety aware.
- Train everyone to be safe: Train all your new hires, whether rookies or veterans, in the safety procedures specific to your organization.
- Develop a process for reporting injuries and potential hazards: Near misses and minor injuries are early warning signs for more serious incidents. From bussing staff to management, encourage everyone to keep an eye out for unsafe conditions or practices and have a system in place for reporting and investigating the causes.
- Ongoing training: It’s not enough that employees want to do their jobs safely. They need the skills to do so. Make sure they undergo any necessary recertification training, as well as training on new safety procedures and new equipment.
- Engage employees in the benefits of working safely: Communicate to employees how health and safety practices are good both for the organization and for them. Be clear about the benefits of working safely both professionally and personally.
Keep in mind, incorporating safety into your organizational culture won’t happen overnight. Shifting attitudes, perceptions and behaviors is a continuous process.
To measure progress, experts suggest monitoring injury data and conducting regular employee perception surveys. To encourage employee engagement, make sure the surveys are based on employee input and that you provide feedback on the responses.
Low injury rates—together with a workforce that believes you care about their safety—are good indicators that a culture of safety is truly taking root.