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Building Trust: Keys to creating an effective safety culture

By Chuck Kelly | Nov 15, 2023
Getty images / zaieiu

We all strive to make safety second nature for ourselves and our employees. But how do we accomplish that? 

We all strive to make safety second nature for ourselves and our employees. But how do we accomplish that? 

It is important to look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Am I the benchmark for safety culture in our organization? Do I set the tone for others to emulate? Do I believe that when asked who best represents safety in this organization, my employees would refer to me?” If you can answer “yes” to those questions, then you are off to a good start. But that’s not the end—that’s merely the first step. 

Cultural assessments

You can’t will others to value safety. They must believe and buy in. When that happens, safety becomes everyone’s responsibility and your job becomes a bit easier. So, how do you do that?

When I conduct cultural assessments, I look to the line staff to give me a barometer of the safety culture. All too often there is a disconnect between what management believes and what line staff thinks, and trust is one of the biggest impediments. The line crews simply don’t believe that management is serious about safety. This may be caused by lack of communication, no fol­low-through or uneven discipline. The gap between employees and management will never come together if trust is not established.

Let’s look at some ways that we can establish a level of trust that benefits all. I have spoken before about how we can engage employees. I use a simple three-step method: 

  1. Communicate what the task is. 
  2. Tell them why we are doing it.
  3. Seek their input on how to accomplish the work. 

With this process, I demonstrate to the crew that I value them as employees and am seeking their input on the work at hand. Can this method be used to help establish trust? Certainly! The most important thing I’ve done here is communicate. 

Engaging employees

All success starts with effective communication. By engaging employees on a regular basis, we can lay the building blocks for a solid trust foundation. But we must do more than that to build a trusting relationship. We must also be cognizant of what we hear when communicating. Effective listening is key. We actually need to hear what is being said and follow up on any potentially deficient areas employees mention. When we take these actions, we begin to build the relationship with employees that leads to a positive safety culture. 

Discipline

Fair and equitable discipline is also important. All too often, organizations punish the employee level for violations of safety rules while turning a blind eye to a supervisor’s failure to follow the same rules. These areas are all building blocks to creating a positive safety culture.

Remember, when creating or trying to maintain a positive safety culture, using these three steps may help to achieve your goals. But you should also ask yourself, “If I were on the line crew, how would X affect me?” Put yourself in the position of the individuals that are affected most by your policies and procedures. Would you feel comfortable that your safety comes first, or is completing the job the priority? If you can answer yes to the first question, that is a good sign. 

To create or maintain a positive safety culture, incorporate the following steps into our process:

  • Communicate effectively. 
  • Seek input and actively listen to employees’ concerns and suggestions.
  • Follow through on issues of importance to staff and your commitments to them.
  • Hold everyone, regardless of title, accountable for following safety rules.
  • Develop multilevel teams to lead the safety culture initiative.

Putting these actions in place will greatly enhance trust and strengthen your relationship with employees, thereby improving your safety program’s success.

Header image: Getty images / zaieiu

About The Author

KELLY, president of Kelly Consulting & Mediation Services, has worked with utility industry leaders on safety, labor relations and human resources for more than 30 years. Reach him at 540-686-0118 or [email protected].

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