Creating a Culture of Safety in the Workplace

One of the biggest challenges in any workplace – whether a private company, a nonprofit organization or a municipal government – is keeping employees safe. In the office or in the field, there are risks at every jobsite. However, educating all staff about safety, and empowering them to learn and follow safety guidelines, will reduce the extent and severity of work-related injuries and illnesses, improve employee morale and productivity, and reduce workers’ compensation costs.

Some safety hazards include slips, trips and falls; back injuries from lifting, twisting and reaching; germs and bacteria; chemical misuse; fires; weather events; violence and many more. With education, information and proper preparation, these hazards can be avoided or minimized – especially when directors, managers and employees are committed to keeping the workplace and themselves safe.

Creating or updating a safety program that is customized to your city’s needs is a crucial piece of the risk management puzzle. When introducing or reestablishing a safety program, communicate clear goals, objectives and procedures in a written safety plan and distribute to the entire staff electronically and/or as a hard copy.

An effective safety program includes provisions for systematic identification, evaluation and prevention or control of hazards; goes beyond specific requirements of the law to address all hazards and is specific to the exposures. It doesn’t just cover employee safety but also public safety, fleet safety and professional liability.

A compliant and engaged staff is one key to making the safety program work and building a “safety culture.” As your city begins to implement the plan, encourage top management to be involved in a way that is visible to staff to generate buy-in and foster a positive atmosphere. An effective way to involve staff is to launch a safety committee to bring workers and management together through a cooperative effort.

Other recommended actions include conducting comprehensive baseline and periodic surveys for safety and health; analyzing existing, planned and new facilities, processes, materials and equipment; and performing routine job hazard analyses. Workplaces should be inspected on a regular basis.

During this time, inspectors should listen to the concerns of workers and supervisors; gain understanding of various jobs and tasks; identify existing and potential hazards and recommend corrective action. If a safety hazard is identified, solve the problem immediately. This shows that the city is dedicated to keeping a safe work environment. If a safety rule is broken, correct the employee right away while offering continued training, positive reinforcement and frequent follow ups.

Other ways to perpetuate a workplace safety culture is to prepare, prepare, prepare. For example, hold drills for weather disasters and building evacuations to be sure everybody knows what to do in case of a real emergency. Provide first-aid and CPR training to staff and keep safety flyers and posters in plain sight. Anticipating what could go wrong will always help in knowing what to do when something goes wrong.

Daily five-minute “huddles” at the start of a shift – especially in the field – can make a huge difference in the way the day will go. A team leader should address a topic specific to the day’s activities and give a breakdown of the safety process. Even a short overview and refresher could help avoid accidents.

Some final thoughts about workplace safety include listening closely to workers’ concerns and ideas, reviewing and adjusting the safety program and plan program at least annually and identifying patterns that can be corrected.  One size does not fit all when it comes to municipal workplace safety programs. Customize the program to fit your city's needs and to keep your employees safe.

The Florida League of Cities Risk Management Department offers more than 20 online courses and more than 40 onsite training courses including “Safety Culture,” “Safety Teamwork” and “Municipal Safety/Self-inspections.” In addition, safety posters, videos and handouts available.

To find out more, check out the education section here.

Scott Blaser is the Director of Risk Control for the Florida League of Cities