How to Transform Your Company's Safety Culture by Creating a Shared Belief

Dustin Rusch
November 10, 2016
How do you get employees to actively engage and participate in your organizations safety efforts? How do you motivate employees to positively impact safety performance and culture? How do you turn your entire workforce into a safety improvement team?

A 'shared belief' has the power to make it happen.

Simply stated, shared beliefs are common and collective beliefs that are shared by most people in an organization. Creating shared safety belief in an organization can be a powerful lever for engaging and empowering employees to take action.

Shared beliefs play a significant role, leading people to act individually and guide the actions of a group. 'Action' is powerful when it comes to safety performance improvement - it's the greatest catalyst for change.

"Every employee can make an impact through their words, actions and decisions." Shared belief statements like this can serve as both a call to action (challenge) and can energize a common cause (movement) that employees will relate to and believe in. Every person has a different and unique value and belief system, which needs to be considered when developing strategies and tactics for employee engagement.

Shared safety beliefs alone are not enough. In order to complete the value proposition for employee engagement in safety, there are some important related levers that are essential for change (make a big impact):

1) Ensure you have deep alignment with your organizations ideology and envisioned future.

Being a sustainable and successful business needs to begin with sending your workforce home safe at the end of each and every day. People need to be at the core of the business strategy. Your employees must see that safety is a strategic business objective.

2) Establish a new definition of safety in your organization.

Safety needs to be less about "the absence of injuries" and more about "the barriers, defenses and actions" you are taking to prevent injuries from occurring. Shift safety success metrics from "failing less" to emphasis on the everyday actions and decisions that lead to safe outcomes, which don't get tracked and probably number in the thousands (possibly millions).

3) Brand your safety efforts around the promises you make to your people.

Target their needs to "believe in and belong to something." Make that "something" be the safety improvement effort. Partner and collaborate with your people to get their insight in identifying opportunities for improvement and practical solutions. Participation will become a logical and rewarding proposition.

4) Understand and define the leading and transformative indicators that "fit" your organization.

Focus on the proactive and preventative practices that employees can influence and positively impact. Balance the scorecard with a mix of the leading, lagging and transformative indicators. There is no "ideal" set of metrics so keep it fresh. Having a lead measure that tells you how big your employee engagement footprint (impact) is, can help foster a collective belief in the value of your safety system, improve your current safety climate and have an impact on your safety culture long-term.

5) Invest and leverage technology to simplify the reporting process and to better connect employees to your safety and risk management efforts.

The right technology solution can bring efficiency and effectiveness to the safety effort, not to mention provide a platform for sharing experiences and lessons learned among your workforce (shared experiences lead to shared beliefs).

6) Spot the opportunity to create new safety habits.

Look for new safety habits that can have a ripple effect. Find your "keystone habit" (aka the habit(s) that matter most because they start a chain reaction, changing other habits as they move through the organization, transforming everything). Charles Duhigg's book, the "The Power of Habit" offers great insight into the importance of "keystone habits." Start with and focus on "small wins" (ways to do ordinary things better) to achieve widespread change and improved results (avoid the too good to be true).

Does your organization have a safety engagement strategy that employees can relate to? I will provide insight and share a story about an improvement journey involving shared beliefs, leading indicators and a technology solution to achieve a breakthrough in safety performance at the NAEM EHS & Sustainability Management Forum on October 26, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.


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About the Author

Dustin Rusch
J.F. Ahern Co.
Dustin Rusch is the Chief Safety Officer for J.F. Ahern Co., where he is responsible for establishing the strategic direction of Ahern's EH&S and risk management programs.

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