Creating an effective safety culture is all about care and communication

Christine Di Stasio - Group General Manager, HSEQ & Risk, Ovato

A few years ago, UK health and safety body IOSH released a study titled, ‘Safety leaders: who are they? What do they do?’. It’s a good question and just as relevant here in 2019. Safety isn’t competing for special attention – it’s just a part of how we do things, and it’s the core foundation of a successful business. In my view, safety is the building block for a workforce that is happy, healthy, motivated and productive.

The IOSH study outlines three types of leadership in safety - safety controlling, safety coaching and safety caring. Safety controlling is simply good management and focuses on what we need to do in the present. That is, we set goals, we monitor performance and reward appropriately. But to build a culture of safety and wellbeing, it is the element of caring that needs to be part of the leadership philosophy. The focus is your people and it includes showing concern, communicating effectively, and listening. Taking five minutes, once a week, to spend time with your direct reports and take a pulse check to have that care conversation.

Looking at it through this lens, a safety leader is someone that’s motivated by care. And to achieve an effective, company-wide culture of safety, it’s just part of all your day-to-day interactions. Having a conversation and getting to know what’s going on first hand allows you to better understand what your people are thinking and feeling. It also provides the opportunity to read the situation and address as needed. And it goes both ways – you’ll be surprised at what comes back to you! Care is at the heart of every successful safety culture, and my experience has shown that to achieve real change you need to make your employees part of the process.

Coach to empower

The last of the three leadership practices is safety coaching, which is about training and improving behaviours through role modelling, prioritising safety and involving your staff. When you start from a place of genuine care, it’s a lot easier to get people on board for this step. And while on-boarding and training programs may be it’s just as important to provide mentorship and role model behaviour.

Recognition of positive, safe behaviour is crucial too. While incidents or risks obviously need to be dealt with, we should draw attention to people who consistently model safe practices or make other people feel safe and secure at work. A pat on the back and a verbal shout out goes a long way towards making people feel valued. In addition to consultation, it’s the feedback that makes the difference. Ensure there is a process in place to close the loop and share positive changes that have been implemented.

Don’t forget about wellbeing

Safety is also about wellbeing. Staff who are mentally and physically well are happier at work and more effective in their jobs. Find out what they need from you to feel healthier in the workplace and then do what you can to implement that. Encouraging collaborative ways to improve wellbeing will keep staff safe and healthy, and give your company culture a boost. For example, recently at Ovato we conducted a company-wide survey on wellbeing and found that staff are particularly interested in support for healthy eating, physical activity and emotional wellbeing. As a result, we will be looking at a range of new initiatives to support these three areas.

Safety is an important part of any business, no matter what industry you work in. It should be part of everything you do – but to get there, you need engaged employees who really feel that the business cares about their health and wellbeing. To me, a true safety leader is authentic and caring. What does it mean for you?