The How and Why of Safety Culture

Flynn Canada Ltd.

Every day—no matter where you are working—safety should be top of mind. We all want to go home safely from our workplace at the end of day, but are we doing all we can to stay safe on the job? One of the best ways to keep people safe is to create a safety culture in the workplace. According to the Institute for Industrial Safety Culture, safety culture is defined as “a set of ways of doing and thinking that is widely shared by the employees of an organization in the context of managing the most significant risks associated with its activities.” Defining what safety culture means is the important first step.

Next, you must determine what goals you want to achieve. Do you have to address a high incident rate? Have you had a major incident and need to examine significant issues? Do you have an adequate safety culture and want to improve it? Find out where you are, think about what you want to do, and set measurable, timely goals that will show results.

Assess Your Organization: Demonstrating Management Commitment to Safety*
Uninformed Reactive Compliant Proactive Exemplary
Management is rarely on the jobsite, are poor role models, and do not participate in safety audits. When concerns are brought forward, they are not acted on. Management is only involved when an incident occurs. Employees are often blamed, and rules are only enforced after an incident or due to a poor audit. Management conforms to government regulations and participates in safety audits. Management initiates and actively conducts audits. Regular site visits occur, and management recognize employees for working safely. Safety plans are reviewed regularly, and resources are available for safety programs. Management integrates safety into all aspects of work. There is continuous improvement, external audits and management is held accountable for safety in performance evaluations.
*Adapted from The Safety Climate Assessment Tool (S-CAT): A rubric-based approach to measuring construction safety climate by T. M. Probst, L.M. Goldenhar, J.L. Byrd and E. Betit. Published in Journal of Safety Research, February 23, 2019.

How to Cultivate a Safety Culture

Flynn Canada Ltd.

We caught up with Sean Thompson, Branch Manager at Flynn Canada Ltd., to learn how Flynn developed their safety culture, and what it has meant to the team and the company. “Our safety culture journey started about 14 years ago, when we were at the compliance stage,” says Thompson. “Back then, and even to this day, safety in construction was about trying to meet regulations and rules. We quickly recognized that if we were going to remain leaders in the construction industry, then we needed to evolve and begin incorporating safety as a culture.” The company needed to move away from placing safety into one role in the company—the safety specialist, a job which was often seen as policing safety as opposed to cultivating it.

Flynn Canada decided to move safety to the top of its priority list, right alongside production and quality. “Instead of keeping safety in a silo, we made the move to embrace it,” says Thompson. “Plus, we recognized that for safety culture to become part of our workplace, it needed to come from the top—our leadership needed to drive the idea.” The company launched annual safety town hall meetings in every branch, attended by senior leaders, to show that safety was not a box to tick but something to be engaged in and excited about. Flynn Canada also started its safety award program; with one branch every year being recognized with the Don Flynn Safety Award. “The award has definitely motivated some healthy competition among branches.”

Finally, the company embedded safety into every worksite with a program it calls C.A.R.E.—Competence, Awareness, Risk Management, Empowerment. “We created a workplace culture where there are no stupid questions, and where employees are actively encouraged to speak up to managers when they see a potential issue.”

Why Cultivate a Safety Culture?

The simple answer is that no one wants to call 911. “A family never deserves to receive terrible news about a loved one while at work,” says Thompson. “Everyone deserves to go home every night to their loved ones.” On top of that, near-misses, damage, incidents, injuries—or worse—are bad for business. “Even minor incidents are bad for productivity. Projects have milestones to meet, and customers expect the work to get done in a timely fashion,” says Thompson. “Safety incidents impact people and the bottom line. When you have a good safety culture, you keep people safe and avoid additional costs in time and money. Good safety means good business.”

Thompson has advice for anyone thinking about how they can improve their workplace’s safety culture. First, it is about consistency rather than intensity. “You can put someone through safety training, but if they never use the training, neither party wins. Use the knowledge. Talk about ideas and keep people accountable.”

Next, make it clear and simple. “Take the guesswork out of your expectations. The most successful messages are the simple ones. Keep it clear and concise and explain why it’s important.”

Finally, lead from the top. “Leaders need to talk and listen. Good communication is a two-way street. People need to feel comfortable to ask questions and make suggestions. They need to feel heard. With Flynn, we live by the idea that leaders eat last. Listening to our people and taking action has created what we have today.”

The Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association (SCSA) is an industry-funded, membership-based, non-profit organization that provides cost-effective, accessible safety training and advice to employers and employees in the construction industry throughout the province to reduce the human and financial losses associated with injuries. Registered March 22, 1995 the SCSA is, and has been since inception, committed to injury prevention. Serving almost 10,000 member companies, the vision of the SCSA is to create the Safest Construction Environment in Canada through its mission of Constructing Safety Leadership. For more information, visit www.scsaonline.ca