Is a bad safety culture bringing your County down and leading to increased accidents? Here’s how to tell if your County has a bad safety culture, and what you can do to fix it.

Seven Warning Signs That Your County Safety Culture is Dysfunctional

1.)  Safety doesn’t start at the top. 

People emulate what they see. If you want your County  to have a successful safety program, the top leadership at your County are the ones that will have to be the ambassadors. Get your executive staff 100% onboard and the rest of the departments will follow. However, one weak link and it will bring down your entire safety culture across the board. Make sure all your Commissioners, as well as managers and supervisors are supporting your safety plan.

2.)  Poor communication between departments. 

Ambiguity breeds weakness in your safety plan. For success, make sure you have a clear plan in place, with concrete responsibilities for each department and members of your team. Make sure you re-iterate these plans constantly and ensure that each department is aware of every part of the plan. It is also wise to select a point-person or designated communication officer that will be the liaison between different groups in your County, with the end goal of unifying all the plans together for the success of the entire safety project.

3.)  Under-reporting of accidents and incidents. 

In a study published in the National Safety Council’s Journal of Safety Research (Vol. 45), young workers indicated that a sense of powerlessness kept them from telling their supervisor about safety concerns. The best way for your safety culture to thrive is to empower your workers and have them fix safety hazards before they happen. Unfortunately, many times hazards are mitigated only after they are reported, or a near-miss occurs. For this reason, your County should accurately report all accidents, incidents, and near misses to help improve your safety plan and strengthen your culture of safety.

4.)  Placing the blame. 

When injuries occur, many times individuals are blamed, and it is believed that accountability for accidents belongs to those directly involved.  Safety should be everyone’s responsibility . Furthermore, according to Safety and Health Magazine, popular reasons for not reporting an injury are:

  • The injury was small
  • Accepting pain as part of the job
  • Not wanting to be labeled a “complainer”
  • Believing home treatment would be enough
  • Not being sure if the injury was work-related
  • Fearing the loss of future or current jobs
  • Not being able to afford time off without pay to see a doctor
  • Not wanting to lose out on the safety incentive for no lost work time.

You should emphasize that safety is everyone’s responsibility, but also stress that no retaliation will happen for someone who reports an injury and mean it!

5.)  Cost-cutting and exclusive focus on profitability. 

Sometimes, there is a culture that profitability is the only concern in a County.  Safety and health are an added cost. Symptoms of this include workers rushing and working too quickly, departments not wanting to purchase the correct PPE and other equipment, over-working employees, and focusing exclusively on the bottom line.

In fact, Counties that invest in safety save money.  Richland County is a prime example of a County who has invested into safety and who is now receiving a 34% reduction in Workers’ Compensation Premium Rate.

6.)  No follow-up or improvement after an accident. 

The reality is that accidents can happen anytime, even with proper training and protection. If an accident happens on your job site, you should use the opportunity to evaluate your safety procedures and mitigate the hazards, so they won’t happen again. The data you collect will ultimately improve your company. Many times, companies simply record the accident and file it away. You should always investigate, follow-up, and take concrete steps to improve your safety plan after an accident or incident occurs. Make sure you also have a good record keeping system and save all documents relating to an injury.

7.)  Not valuing employees. 

Your employees are the life blood of your County.  Increased morale leads to increased efficiency, productivity, and profitability. Let your workers know that they have a voice. Give them a channel to communicate safety hazards. Listen to their comments and suggestions, and make sure you follow up on hazards that are reported. Not only will you build trust with your team, but you will make your County safer at the same time.

If you notice any of these issues in your County , it’s not too late! By focusing on fixing these weak spots, you will be able to lay the groundwork to build a great safety culture in your County.

Emelia McEwen  |  MACo PCT/WCT Sr. Loss Control Specialist  |  emcewen@mtcounties.org  |  (406) 449-4370