EHS Buzzwords Explained: Safety Culture

Digital transformation, Industry 4.0, Internet of Things (IoT), oh my! The list of industry buzzwords continues to grow, making it harder to keep up with the latest technology trends that can provide unique value to environmental, health, safety and quality teams. Safety Culture is by no means a new idea, but it’s one that continues to gain traction across industries. In fact, 84% of EHS professionals indicated in a recent report, EHS Embraces the Technology Revolution, that they have already implemented programs to strengthen safety culture.
Whether your goal is to get started with safety culture or build upon what your organization is doing today to take it to the next level, we’re here to help. Let’s take a deep dive into what safety culture is and discuss how to effectively measure it and drive continuous improvement across your organization.

Safety Culture Defined

Safety culture is the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and, most importantly, the values that employees share in relation to risk within an organization. It’s very much an emotional appeal and commitment by management to your employees.

An effective safety culture starts with commitment from the top-down. By promoting and celebrating the importance of a safe workplace as part of your organization’s core values, you can demonstrate that the health and well-being of your employees is foundational to the company’s success. Let’s be clear here: there is no safety culture without buy-in from executives and management.

5 Key Elements for Building Safety Culture

There are five keys elements for creating and sustaining a strong safety culture across your organization: 

  • Commitment and engagement from the top-down
  • Open and transparent communication
  • Continuous training
  • Setting realistic and attainable goals and objectives
  • Tracking performance and identifying the drivers behind the results

As an EHS professional, you know that it can be difficult to measure and demonstrate the value of creating a strong culture of safety within your organization. This is where having a robust set of safety data and developing key performance indicators becomes invaluable.   

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EHS Analytics: The History

Like most things in life, EHS data analytics has evolved over time. We started with a mostly descriptive framework, i.e. what happened. This started the moment we began to track and record incidents and near misses, but incident rates and near-miss counts are lagging indicators. While they helped us identify gaps in our processes and programs early on, many EHS professionals realized that change after the fact still meant there were limits to our ability to protect employees from workplace injuries, illnesses, or fatalities. Make no mistake, descriptive data will continue to be a valuable source of data, but it’s how we analyze that data that is evolving.   

More recently, we have moved into a predictive framework, i.e. what will/might happen if a set of conditions occur. In this phase, we are using historical data to try and predict when an incident might occur to prevent it from happening altogether through increased training and communication with employees, especially those identified as being the most at risk of being injured on the job.  

Today, as technology advances and we increase the amount of data available for analysis exponentially through wearables and smart PPE technology, analytics are moving into a prescriptive framework. We are now able to leverage technology to process and interpret vast quantities of data and related metadata, also known as big data, to provide us recommendations on what actions to take. So, the more data we collect, the better the results are from the analytical solutions, which enables us to provide employees with timely information throughout their day. This can be incredibly powerful in creating and improving safety culture throughout your organization.

By effectively implementing a data analytics program, you can do more than just realize the clear financial benefits through increased productivity that comes along with a better safety culture. You can also reduce the human cost of safety by reducing the number and severity of workplace incidents down. These investments in turn help demonstrate leadership’s commitment to the health and safety of employees, which is key to having a strong safety culture.  

The Importance of Data Quality

Along with an analytics strategy, data quality is another valuable metric to track. Measuring data quality and assigning a score to each record will show you where the gaps are in your current reporting processes. Data quality scores factor the completeness of a record and the data provided by users. Having a complete picture of your data is crucial to measuring your safety culture overall. So, you’re probably wondering – how can I gather all of this information? How can I make sure I have a high data quality score? It starts with leveraging a single, unified solution to track and manage your EHS data and eliminating paper, point solutions, spreadsheets, and homegrown solutions that result in siloed data. From there, you can layer on more and more technology to help drive performance and build upon your safety culture. 

Safety Culture Metrics You Can Start Measuring Today

Safety culture can be difficult to measure but can provide a baseline model for how your organization is performing and what leading indicators are impacting workplace safety. Measuring safety culture is multi-dimensional, but it starts with measuring employee and management perceptions, engagement, and commitment. Getting monthly or quarterly pulse checks from employees and management is a great way to refine your programs to address critical gaps and concerns.   

In addition to surveying employees, there are a number of leading and lagging indicators that you can track. By measuring these, you can begin to piece together a full picture of your processes and programs. Remember, what works for one organization may not make sense for another. There is no one size fits all way to measure safety culture, but here are several leading and lagging indicators you can consider tracking today:

Management Commitment

  • Requested vs. actual budget
  • Employee hours spent on safety prevention
  • Funding for tools to carry out the safety program
  • Marketing support for safety programs

Employee engagement

  • Ratio of employee hours to worked hours
  • Pass rate of training competency evaluations
  • Number of observations and safety suggestions submitted
  • Training effectiveness results from feedback surveys

Safety management systems

  • Inspection scores
  • Audit scores
  • Percent of action completion
  • Percent of safety procedures reviewed

Once you begin to measure these items, you can start to look for correlations in your data. This will give you a better idea of what is positively or negatively influencing your overall safety culture score. Are there certain areas with red flags? These will become clear and you can then start to proactively address the gaps.

Wrapping Up

It’s time to start thinking about safety differently. We are moving into a world of “safety 4.0”. This means people are expecting work to be conducted safely 100% of the time, and safeguards in place and effective at all times. To get there, it’s crucial to start including and tracking safety culture and performance analytics into your plan today.

Learn More about Safety Culture

To learn more about how you can build and sustain a strong safety culture within your organization, watch our webinar, Take Your Corporate Safety Culture to the Next Level with Data Analytics.