The Ultimate Guide to Safety Culture in 2024

The best way to prevent harm and mitigate disruption in your organization is to develop a positive culture of safety. When everyone in your business is aligned, you are able to create and maintain a safe, secure work environment.

Keep reading to learn how to build a stronger safety culture in your organization.

How Healthy Is Your Safety Culture?

Learn the 8-step approach for improving your safety culture.

What Is Safety Culture?

Safety culture is a foundational set of beliefs and behaviors that a company upholds about workplace safety.
When a company prioritizes safety above all else, you might say they have a strong safety culture.

In practice, this looks like:

  • Employees making safe choices every day
  • Active prevention and preparation for emergencies
  • Clear incident reporting structures
  • Frequent audits and continuous improvement
  • Positive attitudes around safety policies
  • Commitment to learn from safety incidents
  • Regular communication about safety practices
venn diagram showing crossover of leadership and employee-buy in for safety as a core value

Prerequisites to Safety Culture

In order for safety to be ingrained as part of a company’s culture, everyone needs to buy in—from executives and senior management to entry-level workers and interns. With operational transparency, employees on all levels understand how and why safety continues to be a shared commitment.

Learn the 8-step approach for improving your safety culture.

What Do Safety Experts Say?

Here’s what the leading safety experts have to say about how to build a positive safety culture.
  • “Safety is the first step in showing our team that we truly care about their well-being. Without that sense of safety, we are not doing our part to motivate and fulfill our team members‘ fundamental needs as humans.”
    headshot of Mark French Senior Health, Safety, and Environmental Manager at Dalkia Energy Solutions
    Mark French Senior Health, Safety, and Environmental Manager at Dalkia Energy Solutions
  • “The meaning of safety culture will differ depending on the circumstances. When referring to operational safety, it can mean daily awareness and frequent communication. In terms of safety management, the signs of a safety culture can mean the attention around identifying and determining appropriate treatment for the identified risks.”
    headshot of Matt McMahan Sr. Manager of Business Continuity and Records, Texas Roadhouse
    Matt McMahan Sr. Manager of Business Continuity and Records, Texas Roadhouse
  • “We think of safety as more than just a priority—we think of it as a value. That’s a very important distinction. Priorities within an organization—or an individual—can change with external pressures. For instance, if we fall behind on a schedule and add more staffing to work overtime, that might conflict with a financial priority. But a value is who you are all the time. Your values never change.”
    Headshot of Scott Gerard VP of Environmental Health and Safety, Moss Construction
    Scott Gerard VP of Environmental Health and Safety, Moss Construction

How To Improve Safety Culture

These tips will help you build a stronger safety culture—whether your business already has a strong culture of safety or you’re still working on building this foundation.
  • Ensure leadership is fully bought in.

    Company culture comes from the top down, and your safety culture will be no exception. Make sure managers are committed to leading important safety initiatives, approving process updates, and increasing spending on training and other safety programs.

  • Adjust your attitude about safety.

    A healthy safety culture requires positive attitudes if people are to follow procedures and focus on learning from incidents. If you identify a disconnect in people’s mindsets, start by making sure everyone understands how a safety culture will benefit them. You can also offer incentives for positive behavior as encouragement.

  • Build mutual trust.

    When trust suffers, take a hard look at how your organization is responding to situations. Do your employees act with safety in mind and report incidents quickly? Do managers promptly fix unsafe situations? Do you fire or blame employees immediately without a fair investigation? Building trust requires having hard conversations with your teams at every level about whether safety culture priorities are being upheld. When conversations and actions are consistent, trust will grow over time.

With these foundational principles in place, follow the eight steps below to build a stronger, more positive safety culture.

Learn the 8-step approach for improving your safety culture.

Your Safety Culture Toolkit

Use these tools to make building a positive safety culture quicker and easier.

Benefits of a Positive Safety Culture

It’s easy to simply say that a safety culture is a good thing for your business.
But there are some irrefutable benefits to instilling your business with a positive safety culture.

Positive safety culture can lower safety costs overall.

A good safety culture may mean an increase in upfront safety expenses, including PPE, EHS specialists, and time spent on inspections and safety processes. But these investments will mitigate more expensive accidents and slow emergency responses. The money spent on training—up to $1,678 annually per employee for some businesses—doesn’t even come close to the upwards of $1 billion a week in direct worker’s compensation alone that poor safety culture can cost. Overall, you will save on the cost of repairs, investigations, re-trainings, low employee morale, and absenteeism.

Safety training increases your preparedness.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), businesses see an average return of $4 to $6 for every dollar invested in their workplace safety programs. Specifically, investing in regular safety training makes employees more than 25% more likely to know what to do during an emergency situation. Spending the time and money on safety training, safety topic discussions, and intentional work practices saves costs in the long run by preventing dangerous accidents.

Employees will feel valued and invested.

You’ll also see major improvements in employee morale and lower turnover and absenteeism. Employees want to know that you have their backs, and positive safety culture will prove that you care more about their health and well-being than anything else. Curious to see this in action? Check out three examples from companies with great safety culture.

Here are some of the other benefits of a positive safety culture:

Learn the 8-step approach for improving your safety culture.

Positive vs. Negative Safety Culture

Here are the key signs to look for that indicate a positive safety culture vs a negative or unhealthy safety culture.

One clear sign of a positive safety culture is a higher incident reporting volume.
This might seem counterintuitive. Creating an environment where safety is a priority will lower the number of accidents and hazards over time. But to get there, you have to create an open and positive space for reporting issues. Employees who feel like their safety is prioritized and their voice is valued will be more open about hazards they see in the workplace. This is good! You want to establish a reporting culture that surfaces risks through detailed threat intelligence and helps you address them.

“ Get frontline workers involved. They’ll provide some of the best feedback and solutions because they’re the ones doing it. They know where the risk is and what the challenges are. ”
Headshot of Scott Gerard VP of Environmental Health and Safety, Moss Construction
VP of Environmental Health and Safety, Moss Construction

If you aren’t seeing incident reports coming through, this could be a bad sign.
It could mean employees are hiding issues rather than reporting them, or maybe there are blockages at the management level where issues aren’t being escalated. The best way to address this is to work on the human factors that prevent reporting and establish clear escalation processes to ensure concerns are addressed. For example, if an incident occurs, avoid throwing around blame and jeopardizing a culture of trust. Instead, quickly deal with any reported hazards and then take time to investigate and find ways to improve in the future.

Look for qualitative signs of progress.
Indicators like good brand reputation and higher employee satisfaction can be determined by sending out surveys or questionnaires. Ask your customers what they think of your company, or ask employees how they feel about safety at work. You can also look at your expenses to evaluate the breakdown of preventative spending and reactive spending. Ultimately, you should be spending less on safety overall, and your expenses should feel predictable without quick spikes in workers’ compensation or repairs from accidents.

Here is a longer list of negative signs to look out for:

Learn the 8-step approach for improving your safety culture.

Top 5 Safety Culture Examples

Learn how other businesses have relied on their strong safety culture to foster positive growth and increase their resilience during emergencies.

Webinars About Safety Culture

Get the best safety culture advice, lessons, and tactics directly from leaders in the field.

Safety Culture FAQs

Read below for answers to the most common questions about building a culture of safety.
  • What is the first step in creating a safety culture?

    The first step in building a positive safety culture is to look for weaknesses or vulnerabilities in your operations. You can do this in the form of audits, questionnaires, or by running drills and writing up after-action reports. Look for both the most frequent problems and the most severe problems. Once you have located your areas of improvement, you can work on bettering your safety outcomes through a strong safety culture.

  • What values ensure a culture of safety?

    While there are a lot of values that can ensure your safety culture is strong, here are several values to consider prioritizing in your organization:

    1. Trust
    2. Respect
    3. Honesty
    4. Patience
    5. Clarity
    6. Accountability
    7. Open-mindedness
  • What industries benefit from a safety culture?

    Every industry can benefit from a stronger safety culture. But there are some industries that have more complicated safety needs than others. For example, the manufacturing and construction industries are often dealing with dangerous equipment and materials. There are a lot more immediate risks and safety concerns for those who work on a shop floor or a building site than those working in an office.

    Healthcare is another industry that benefits more from a healthy safety culture since there are both patient safety and the health of the care providers and frontline workers to consider.

  • How do you promote a safety culture in your workplace?

    The best way to promote a safety culture in your workplace is to communicate frequently about it. Safety leaders should be talking with both upper management and employees regularly about safety programs.

    Make sure that your employees know how safety culture benefits them, and consider incentivizing good safety behavior as an added promotion. Incorporate regular safety training sessions into your schedule– use these monthly safety training topics to get started.

  • How do you get leadership buy-in for safety culture?

    Getting buy-in from leadership is critical to implementing a culture of safety. A good way to start is to lean on hard numbers and science. Find studies on safety hazards for your industry (fatigue risks, accident rates, branding damage, etc.), and calculate the cost savings of prevention vs. response.

    You can also start by requesting to update the operational processes that are best for the bottom line and show exactly how safety will support better profitability in the longer term. No matter what, be sure to emphasize the ROI of safety culture with hard numbers.

  • How do you get employee buy-in for safety culture?

    Getting employee buy-in is all about showing your employees how a safety culture will help them. While the general benefit of a safer work environment might be enough for some employees, there may be others who are less enthusiastic about the changes in practice. Focus on demonstrating long-term benefits:

    1. Less time spent training new hires since there is less turnover
    2. Less stress about surprise inspections
    3. Lowered risk of accident or injury
    4. Fewer lost wages due to shutdowns
    5. Less micromanaging due to an increase in management trust

    You can also lean on incentives or rewards for behaviors that boost a positive safety culture. Offer bonuses or gifts to employees who are going above and beyond, or host safety challenges or competitions to encourage participation.

  • Why is safety culture important?

    Establishing a positive safety culture is one of the best ways to ensure your business is taking a proactive approach to protecting employees and operations from harm. When safety is a core value of the organization, everyone is going to make safer choices and any accidents that do happen will be learning opportunities rather than incidents to sweep under the rug. This will lead to fewer incidents overall and more resiliency during larger-scale emergencies, so your company can thrive and grow without unpredictable disruptions.

  • How can safety culture be measured?

    Safety culture can seem complicated to track and measure, but there are several key metrics that will help you monitor progress.

    • Number of safety incidents/hazards reported: This should go up initially
    • Scope and impact of safety incidents: This should decrease generally over time
    • Time between incident and reporting: This should decrease
    • Time between reporting and response/resolution: This should decrease
    • Employee satisfaction: This should increase
    • Safety spending: This may increase initially but should decrease over time
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How to Build a Stronger Safety Culture

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