Managing Safety Culture

Building and managing a high performance safety culture is essential in creating sustained positive safety performance in your business. Yet, so many companies focus on overly complicated and generic policies and procedures coupled with a strong disciplinary process to effect change and discharge their duties. This isn’t a safety culture, this a culture of fear.

There are a number of buzz words and interpretations of a ‘high performance safety culture’ but to summarize my thoughts, it simply translates to ‘individual ownership of safety where individuals actively demonstrate genuine care for themselves and others they work with.’ To achieve this culture – all workers are trained, provided the forums to openly communicate, the tools & knowledge to feel empowered to call out positive and unsafe conditions, are able to promote alternative ideas & improvements and challenge unsafe acts regardless of position.

The following 4 areas are a basic overview of ways to build and manage the foundations of a strong safety culture. 


A hybrid approach of written commitment and visible time in-field is key. Leadership starts at the top and the importance of the entire senior management team being visible and demonstrating ‘felt leadership’ in the field cannot be underestimated.

‘Felt leadership’ is where there is genuine interest in the person you are interacting with. Leave the checklist behind and find out what makes your workers tick.

Visible leadership plays an integral part in the transformation journey and it is not isolated to senior management. Leadership also applies to individual ownership of safety.


If you want to create a toxic safety culture within your business then do one thing – Stop Listening. Often, when concerns or improvements are raised, the person receiving this information fails to listen and therefore fails to provide feedback. A lack of feedback, good or bad, implies to the individual that raised it that their concern was not listened to or their wellbeing isn’t being considered, this can fester into a ‘why bother’ attitude.

To build a high performance safety culture there needs to be a 360° communication flow without fear of repercussion.

If you want to create a toxic safety culture within your business then do one thing – Stop Listening.

A 360° communication flow is where a worker raises something, this could be a near miss, a suggestion or improvement, a personal matter etc, the listener acknowledges what is being said and then circles back with that individual at a later date to provide an update on what was done with the information.

When workers raise something rember, they are faced with hazards and risks every day and can often provide insight into safer and more efficient ways of completing a task. If you foster an open channel of communication then your teams will want to be involved in improvements such as the development of risk assessments and development of simple policy and procedures.

If your workers help in developing the documentation they will have a sense of ownership of the process and are more likely to follow the controls because they want to, not because they have to – this is a key measure of demonstrating a high performance safety culture.


This article is about building safety culture, most people recognise that companies have a duty of care to provide a safe work place, so how to manage hazards won’t be discussed here.

To help build a safety culture you need engagement. If you can engage your workers in managing hazards by participating in safety & hazard inspections, audits and assurance activities etc then this provides a great opportunity for 3 things to occur

  1. A sense of ownership of the workplace and skill development;
  2. A fresh set of eyes to find new hazards (consider workers participating in inspections in workplaces away from their usual work area);
  3. The chance to talk about something other than work. Get to know the workers and what makes them tick. This will assist in building relationships and promote communication but also assist you in identifying potential wellbeing issues such as changes in behaviour.

The more your front line team speak up about near misses and hazards, the more opportunities you have to prevent incidents proactively.

Where hazards are raised and the workforce see that these hazards have been addressed and managed it empowers them to speak up more. The more your front line team speak up about near misses and hazards, the more opportunities you have to prevent incidents proactively. This speaking up demonstrates that individual ownership of safety as discussed at the start of this article.


Don’t think ‘What if i train them and they leave?’, worry about ‘what if i don’t train them and they stay’.

Although the above can be a slightly cliched saying, it is certainly true in the safety space. There have been numerous examples of poor training or a lack of training being attributed to the cause of significant incidents.

A high performance safety culture is driven by investing in your workforce. Individuals want to feel invested-in and they want the chance to be set up for success through training.

Often the negative perception towards training isn’t actually driven from the worker, it’s because companies can treat training like a compliance ‘tick the box’ which makes it unexciting and considered pointless.

A comprehensive training program that is tailored to the needs of your workers helps the workforce in understanding the ‘Why’ of what they do. If they understand how it benefits them, the wider consequence if it goes wrong and how to safely complete the task in a simple manner then they are more likely to want to do the right thing.

Mix up your training mediums, although classrooms have a place they are a becoming an archaic way of teaching, especially for refreshing training. Consider a hybrid model that combines classroom, eLearning and practical sessions aswell as gamification of training programs. The best solutions involve a combination of all of these.

If you are actively promoting and building a high performance safety culture then your workers will actively engage in the training process.

If you want a health check of your safety culture then this should be completed independently. S3 (S3 Safety Group) can provide independent reviews, team coaching or simply advice on more ways to build a high performance safety culture.

Please get in touch for more information.

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