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Risk in Context

Engage Three Leadership Levels to Create Your Workplace Safety Culture

Posted by Larry Pearlman January 26, 2017

Developing a safety culture is hard work. It requires relentless determination by management and the constant involvement and engagement of employees. Safety culture improvement efforts will stall out if you try to put them on autopilot. That’s why improvements in safety culture need leadership commitment.

Most organizational leaders believe they are effective at leading safety. However, they often have very different visions of what safety leadership looks like. Their visions are often based on prior roles and experience, which impede their personal safety effectiveness. As leaders advance in their organizations, they must change their view of personal safety leadership.

Large organizations should consider three levels of safety leadership that are distinct but work in concert with each other to keep employees safe.

1. Strategic Safety Leadership

An organization’s senior leaders can set the tone for safety culture. They are tasked with managing enterprise risk, which means they understand the events and triggers that could lead to the company’s collapse. These leaders need to ensure those events and triggers are identified and ranked and that there is an appropriately robust risk mitigation strategy. They must also align budgets and capital investments to support the risk mitigation strategy, and establish a management review process for safety.

2. Safety Management

Middle managers and asset leadership teams should focus on effective policy and practice implementation. They are the ones who ensure investments are made in the right projects to mitigate risks. They need to demonstrate their commitment to safety by being “visible and felt” safety leaders in the field.

3. Safety at the Frontline

Frontline leaders have an awesome and daunting responsibility when it comes to safety. They serve as the company’s eyes and ears to ensure that:

  • Policies and practices that keep workers safe are in place, effective, and well maintained.
  • Positive behaviors are reinforced.
  • Unsafe behaviors are corrected.

Frontline leaders also determine how work gets done and the role safety will play. If these leaders decide to roll up their sleeves and conduct pre-startup safety reviews, it sets the tone for employees. They are the ones who will intervene (or not) if processes aren’t adequate enough to keep people safe, and set standards for conformance to procedures.

When these three lines of safety leadership work together, an organization can create a line of defense to safeguard employees from injury. Leaders must be clear about their own safety expectations and reinforce safety leadership expectations at each level promote better safety practices and improved employee protection. Such measures will, in turn, increase your organization’s productivity and improve your bottom line.

For more on this topic, listen to a replay of Marsh’s The New Reality of Risk® webcast.

Related to:  Marsh Risk Consulting

Larry Pearlman

Larry Pearlman is a senior vice president with the Workforce Strategies Practice of Marsh Advisory, located in the Chicago office.