manufacturing safety culture

Safety Culture in Manufacturing: 3 Ways to Make it Stick

Most manufacturing leaders strive to make safety a central company value, and for good reason.

Safety violations don’t just risk serious injury or death for people in the vicinity of your plant. They can also cause tons of financial damage — even when no one gets hurt. Potential costs may include lost productivity as your staff scramble to investigate incidents, big fines from regulatory agencies, and a damaged company reputation.

However, it’s not always simple to get the entire staff to take safety seriously.

Making your company’s safety policies more thorough or adding more mandatory training hours isn’t guaranteed to work. In some cases, these kinds of efforts can actually backfire.

In order to make safety a central company value that’s observed consistently, you’ll need more than rules, equipment, and training (although those are essential). You’ll also need to make sure your safety messages are simple and emotional, and that there’s a robust accountability system in place to reinforce them.

Make it Simple

It makes intuitive sense: the more complicated something is, the harder it is to remember. But when it comes to workplace training, leaders sometimes forget that the simplest lessons are the ones that will last the longest. Instead, they throw detailed safety handbooks and protocols at employees, who already have a lot on their minds and are often being bombarded by new information.

Our human brains were only wired to handle so much information at once. To turn policies into daily behavioral changes, safety messages must be clear and simple.

Workforce training expert Stephen M. Paskoff specializes in cultural change for companies. In his company’s blog, he challenges readers to try to remember what they learned the last time they took a webinar or online training course without reviewing their notes.

“My guess: the more complex and detailed the topic the less likely it is you’ll recall what you were taught. And if you’ve only used the information once and heard little or nothing about it since, you’ll likely remember less. That’s how perception, memory, and learning work.”

The problem is that the way we teach usually doesn’t match how we learn, Paskoff says. “No wonder so much is either ignored or forgotten and never applied.”

Simplicity means trying to make the rules as simple as possible so that they’re easy to remember and put into use. That might mean removing confusing language or extra words, or rephrasing so the rules are friendlier or more direct.

However, it also means consolidating lessons to make them simpler and more convenient.

Introducing concepts more slowly and in smaller chunks, then reinforcing them regularly over time, tends to get better results than the longer, more involved, one-time training sessions that have traditionally been used.

Make it Emotional

As emergency response specialist Ian McAllister writes, having safety protocols in place almost always makes intellectual sense. However, reception to these programs is often “tepid” throughout the rest of the organization.

A common reason is that employees may have gotten used to approaching safety practices from the perspective of compliance. They essentially see safety training as a series of checklists to be completed and forgotten.

“For your organization’s response team members, emotional buy-in is critical to ensure that the program moves from a detached series of mechanical steps, to a holistic and effective response CULTURE,” he writes.

manufacturing safety culture

Your strategy? Clarify to employees that they’re not going through safety training to get an insurance discount or pass an audit. Rather, they’re going through it because there are real risks and consequences when safety isn’t observed, and because there are enormous business benefits to following safety initiatives.

Note that safety violations don’t just affect the offending employee’s health. Accidents often put other workers and even the entire community at risk. The greater objective of safety training, therefore, is to protect everyone in the workplace and community. That can resonate with employees on a much more emotional level.

Safety training that incorporates real-world examples and visualizations of potential accidents might be more effective in conveying the seriousness of these safety procedures.

Hold Each Other Accountable

Safety rules won’t be very helpful if leaders aren’t setting a good example behaviorally, and if they don’t put a concrete plan in place to make sure that the rest of the staff follows safety protocol.

Here are a few tactics to help form long-term safety habits that last.

Create and Monitor Success Metrics

Just as there are company-wide goals for production and profitability, there should be defined goals for safety.

If your company’s safety goal is zero injuries, for example, all employees should be well-aware that the stakes are high for the company, and that observing these rules will be a big part of how their performance is assessed.

Safety initiatives should be discussed regularly at meetings, and leaders should also bring the topic of safety up in other, more casual check-ins with individual staffers.

Celebrate Milestones and Progress

Tracking progress toward your safety goals makes it easier to celebrate when you’ve reached them. Along with celebrating milestones, leaders should recognize any outstanding efforts that individual employees have made toward safety efforts.

These celebrations and recognitions can be formal or casual. The main point is to drive home to employees that safety is something that leaders value and keep everyone motivated to stay on track.

Plan for Incident Response

Strong leadership and modeling positive behavior will go a long way toward establishing a culture that values safety. However, there should still be procedures in place to handle safety violations.

First of all, employees should know how to report any issues or problems. For example, they should understand that any injury, first aid use, or near-miss must be documented. Employees should know that these reports should be made promptly, and exactly who should receive them.

In addition to establishing training on how to make the initial reports, as this ISHN article notes, “there should be a chain of command to make sure supervisors are held accountable for being responsive.”

There also needs to be a good recordkeeping policy so incident reports stay safe and accessible to the right people when needed.

Finally, consider creating discipline procedures for when safety protocols are violated.

Disciplining employees for violating safety protocols can be tricky. You don’t want to appear to discriminate against any employees for making a report, which OSHA expressly forbids. You also don’t want to discourage legitimate reports by punishing employees who make them.

However, if you leverage the help of a legal expert, communicate safety rules and consequences very clearly, and thoroughly document any disciplinary procedures as they occur, you can craft a policy that improves safety and protects your company legally.

Don’t Forget About Visitors

If you’re developing a safety training program for your manufacturing facility, you have to plan for more than just employees. Everyone at your plant or office needs to be thoroughly aware of safety risks and prepared for emergencies, and that includes visitors who are unfamiliar with your site.

Don’t forget to include visitors and other temporary workers in your facility’s safety plans. #receptionistapp Share on X

Many manufacturing facilities have adopted the best practices of having visitors watch safety videos right when they arrive, usually in the lobby before they step foot inside.

Tablet-based visitor check-in apps like The Receptionist can help you do this easily. They can track when videos have been viewed and let visitors watch and review them on their own time. The Receptionist also includes a real-time updated visitor list that is essential in emergency evacuations and other crises.

To see the program for yourself, click here to start your free trial.

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