As this month marks OSHA’s 40th anniversary and commemorates Workers’ Memorial Day, it is appropriate that LIFELINES’ theme is safety culture. As a labor-management organization, our Fund understands that collaboration and teamwork are the keys to a strong safety culture.
Safety culture refers to the way in which safety is managed in the workplace and reflects the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, values and practices that employers promote and employees share at work.
Given the aftermath of the catastrophic events now unfolding in Japan, it is worth noting that broad discussion of safety culture first arose in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Analysts summarized that a lack of knowledge and understanding of risk and safety by the directors and employees at Chernobyl contributed to the outcome of that disaster.
Since then, the discussion of safety culture has deepened and in many workplaces, job safety and health is woven into the fabric of the work.
Nevertheless, progress is uneven. Many employers do not understand safety culture and have not launched company-wide efforts to strengthen theirs. Unfortunately, this does not mean that they have no safety culture. Rather, it means that their safety culture is weak and unsubstantiated, directed by unexamined habits and happenstance.
A strong safety culture must start at the top. If management does not promote it, neither will the supervisors or employees that follow. Workers get the message that safety is secondary to production. Company leadership must trust and respect its workers. It has to tap into the experience and knowledge of front-line workers. It should establish labor-management safety committees, conduct safety audits, constantly attempt to move safety upstream with engineering and administrative controls, manage onsite safety during regular production meetings and tool-box talks, insist that workers point out problems and report close calls and assure workers that they have the right to stop work if conditions are unsafe.
More can be done, and more needs to be done, to enhance safety culture. In this issue of LIFELINES, we provide some questions to guide your self-evaluation and our Occupational Safety and Health Division is always available for consultation and guidance. On this Workers’ Memorial Day, we honor the memory of those who gave their lives at work by urging our signatory employers, local unions and members to renew focus on safety culture and put these insights to work.