If leadership doesn’t take responsibility to manage their safety culture, then they are effectively handing it over to the workforce to manage. If the workforce perceives that safety isn’t of real value to leadership, then they are not going to give it much value either. The more that people feel distant or detached from rules, the more likely they are to break them.
As workplace attitudes and behaviours are largely shaped by the organisation’s safety culture, this can lead to an increase in unsafe and risk-taking behaviours.
1. An untidy workplace
People’s minds are incredibly sensitive to visual stimuli. We always believe what we see.
If the workplace looks disorganised, dirty or broken, this will give a powerful impression that safety isn’t taken seriously and nor is the care for the workforce. Either consciously or subconsciously, the workforce will participate in not keeping their workspace in a safe condition.
2. Distrust towards management
Perceptions turn into truths very quickly. If there is a lack of budget, resources or time to give to safety on a regular basis then the collective belief is that management pays lip service to it. The workforce will see leaders as being false and this will cause workers to stop taking notice of them in relation to safety.
3. Lack of clarity around safety
When there is no purpose, people see no point. Rudderless leadership makes it difficult to make accurate decisions or plans. When there have been no accidents, yet workers are still being asked to improve safety, they will see it as a complete waste of their time. Why would they want to fix something that they don’t see is broken?
4.Poor communication between teams and departments
Management of safety is not a spectator sport. Too many managers default to ‘do as I say or else’. People are resistant to being threatened and they will either fight back or they will disengage. This is typical of a ‘them and us culture’, which breaks down communication. Workers will start to keep any safety challenges or suggestions to themselves.
5.Cutting corners and focus on profitability above safety
Safe systems of work and risk assessments are filed away, never to be seen again. Non-compliances are accepted by managers so long as production is on target. When safety is subordinated for the sake of production, there is an unspoken rule that allows for short-cuts and cover-ups. There is a belief that paperwork will cover the company if things go wrong.
Perhaps the most significant sign of a poor safety culture is that leadership is at worst absent or at best inconsistent. That said, it is not often the case that leaders are deliberately lacking in their belief that everyone has the right to be safe at work. Most truly want the best for their employees safety and only need guidance to get there.
If you notice any of these signs in your organisation, now is a good time to focus on strengthening these weak areas. Not only setting the foundation to building a great safety culture, you will also be making sustainable improvements that will help keep people safe at work.