Creating a Safety Culture Part II: Leading by Example
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Creating a Safety Culture Part II: Leading by Example

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Implementing a safety culture is best achieved when you start at the top and when those at the top make it a priority to lead by example. In my experience as a safety professional, some of the challenges I’ve seen come when: 

1. Companies try to promote safety from entry-level employees or middle management, instead of upper leadership. 

2. Leaders have safety expectations for staff but miss the mark when it comes to upholding safety measures for themselves. 

Once you’re ready to adopt a safety culture (and I presume you are since you’re here reading with us) these challenges can be avoided through a few simple steps. 

Starting at the Top 

Ownership and upper leadership need to be the first and biggest proponents of improving safety before middle management, supervisors, or floor employees can be expected to buy-in.  

It’s important to keep in mind that the further down the chain of command you push the message of safety, the harder it can be. Many employees may have trouble adjusting to new safety protocols, especially in environments where safety hasn’t been a focus in the past. These new protocols require staff to take additional steps which can be viewed as extra work or slowing down their processes. As a management team, you need to be aligned with your new safety mission and uphold the rules for your entire staff, so everyone knows what to expect. 

Taking the Lead 

We all know the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” Meetings, emails, policy changes, and memos are great reminders of new safety culture protocols, but the real proof of changes comes when everyone on staff (and I do mean everyone from CEO to front desk manager) takes new safety practices seriously. Employees are always watching ownership and leadership for cues, even when you think they might not be looking.   

As an expert in your field or the boss of the floor, it’s easy to sometimes overlook the rules and take a few shortcuts that you think no one will notice. But have you considered the type of example you’re setting for your employees who are expected to follow safety rules? For example...  

I have worked as a member of management for different companies in past positions. One thing that would bother me from time to time was trash and messes around the facilities, which can be seen as bad brand messaging to customers. I realized quickly that actions spoke louder than words.  It would be one thing to tell employees to clean up or pick up trash if they saw it, but it was another to do it myself in front of them.  If I was walking across a facility or parking lot and saw garbage, I would pick it up and throw it away.  The new clean-up practices didn’t take long to catch on with management and employees and spread like a ripple effect throughout the facilities.      

This example is like the process of creating a safety culture.  Yes, we need to talk about safety expectations, but when we leave the meeting and go about our day, it’s paramount to set an example with our actions. 

Homework Assignment 

Step 1  

In part I of Creating a Safety Culture, you had 15 minutes to pull together photos of safety issues at your facility. For this assignment, go through your photos and count how many issues you can identify. Now take that number and multiply it by $13,653 – the OSHA base penalty fee per violation as of 01-15-2021. This, of course, would be the worst-case scenario for the issues you found, but by understanding the gravity of that potential cost, you can make proactive decisions with your safety routines to avoid paying those fees. 

Step 2 

Next, rank the issues you found at your facility in order from “most serious violation” to “least serious violation”. As you rank these, think about life safety and employee or public endangerment.    

Step 3 

Time to get to work! Document your findings and your corrective actions as you start to tackle each of the issues you’ve found. This documentation can come in handy if you ever get inspected by OSHA. It also shows a history of you doing regular location inspections, finding issues, and creating corrective actions. This becomes proof to OSHA that your company takes safety seriously and that you care about the wellbeing of individuals at your facility.   

The major key in this part of the process? Patience and consistency. When your upper management team presents the new safety culture initiatives, remind your staff of new protocol often, be on the same page with your management peers, uphold the rules for everyone, and have patience as your staff learns to adjust to their new ways of working. Repetition will help your employees understand that this is not just a “flavor of the week” policy and that your company is working to create a stronger safety culture.  Eventually, your team will see the value in a safe workplace and will be on your side promoting a safety culture into the future. 


Kevin Gern

Kevin Gern

Kevin Gern

Kevin Gern
Other posts by Kevin Gern

Kevin is the Director of Safety at American Rental Association. He has a background in emergency services, pharmaceutical, and biotech in addition to safety. His experience and knowledge helps rental stores make decisions on safe rental processes, rental equipment safety, and event site protection. Kevin works remotely from his home in Hershey, PA, the sweetest place on earth and home of the Hershey Bar.

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