Companies frequently talk about safety-first culture as a matter of routine. Whether or not such talk translates into action is another matter. Just because management speaks the right words about maintaining a safe work environment does not mean policies are put in place to create such an environment. It also doesn’t mean that workers are taking the steps necessary to protect themselves and others.
In short, establishing a truly safe workplace requires more than talking. It requires more than developing basic safety policies and stocking a cabinet with Seton first aid supplies. A truly safe workplace is safe because the company has adopted a safety-first culture that permeates everything.
In the UK, the legislation requires companies to meet minimum safety standards. Those standards include things like establishing a responsible person to oversee safety and conducting regular safety assessments. There are many valid reasons for doing such things in developing a safety-first culture at work.
Too Many People Are Injured
At the very top of the list of reasons is the reality that far too many people are injured at work. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), companies and their employees reported 581,000 non-fatal injuries via the 2018/19 Labor Force Survey and an additional 69,208 by way of the RIDDOR scheme. The most commonly reported non-fatal accidents were slips, trips, and falls.
While the numbers may seem surprising, the HSE maintains that “it is known that employers substantially under-report these non-fatal injuries.” What is the take-away here? UK workers are being injured on the job in alarmingly high numbers. This fact alone is a sufficient reason to adopt a safety-first culture in the workplace.
Workers Are Afraid to Report
Perhaps you are curious as to why employers substantially under-report workplace injuries as the HSE maintains. While it is true that employers fear getting in trouble for not maintaining a safe work environment, there may be another reason in play: they can’t report injuries their employees are not reporting to them.
A study conducted by Percy Hughes & Roberts Solicitors found that 38% of 650 surveyed individuals admitted not reporting a workplace injury out of fear. The affected individuals were afraid that either their reports would not be taken seriously or that they would be met with anger. This is a cause for alarm.
If employees do not report injuries, for whatever reason, how can employers take steps to address the root causes of workplace injury? They can’t. And in a company lacking a safety-first culture, the chances of injuries going unreported is higher.
Safety is No One’s Responsibility
Despite UK regulations requiring the implementation of basic safety policies at work, far too often there is a mindset that safety is someone else’s responsibility. In such an environment, safety becomes no one’s responsibility because everyone is looking at someone else to do something that never gets done. Such a mindset can only lead to complacency.
Companies can, and should, develop a safety-first culture in order to eradicate the idea that safety is someone else’s job. The right culture recognizes that safety is everyone’s job – from senior management down to front-line workers.
Increased Safety Equals More Production
A key reason for not pursuing a safety-first culture is a misunderstanding that accounting for safety equates to lost production. That’s the way it looks on the surface because doing things safely often requires doing them less efficiently. Yet in the long run, safety increases productivity by reducing the number of man-hours lost to injury.
Those same HSE statistics that show hundreds of thousands of non-fatal work injuries every year also demonstrate that some 138,000 workers lost more than seven days of work due to their injuries during the reporting period. Another 443,000 were absent from work for up to seven days.
Workplace accidents resulting in injury reduce production by keeping injured workers out of work. While they are home recovering from their injuries, their work is not being done. It is pretty simple to understand. Moreover, it’s a ‘pay me now or pay me later’ scenario. Pay the bill now and you will find that it is cheaper.
Injuries are Normal for Some Jobs
One final reason to adopt a safety-first culture is the reality that injuries are normal for some jobs. These are the kinds of jobs for which safety is so much more important. Put another way, the more dangerous a particular job or workplace is, the more necessary a safety-first culture becomes.
Increased danger calls for increased caution. Therefore, emphasizing safety in every aspect of a particular workplace is commensurate with the level of danger present in that workplace. Ignoring safety simply because a particular type of work is inherently dangerous just doesn’t make sense.
Workplace safety is not something that can be addressed through mere speech alone. Talking about safety does not actually do anything to make workplaces safer. A truly safe workplace is one with a culture of safety from top to bottom.