Identifying a Safe Workplace

8th July 2019

I often have discussions with colleagues, clients, and potential clients around safety in their organization.  Often they will say they have a good safety program, or culture.  When I hear this, one question that goes through my mind, is how do they know?

What is it within your organization that indicates you are doing things that help to reduce risk, and keep workers safe?

I find that there is often a variation of some or all of these themes to explain why the organization has good safety:

  • No-one has been seriously hurt
  • We have x number of days without a lost time
  • We have almost no injuries
  • We all look out for each other
  • We are experienced and know what we’re doing

The examples cited above tend to lean on lagging indicators, or have little evidence of good safety.  Lagging indicators are indicators that tell you how your safety is doing, only after an occurrence that could have or did lead to harm or loss.

The above explanations do not in themselves  indicate that you have a good safety program, or safety culture.  You might be incredibly lucky and have lots of poor practices, but no injuries.

You might be a really low risk work environment where people get hurt regularly.  If the injuries aren’t reported it makes you look good, while preventing you from understanding the frequency and nature of the injuries.

So how can an organization gather evidence that there is good safety in their workplace?  Many companies I’ve spoken to  can explain how and why they feel they have a good safety program, or culture.  They often explain:

  • Examples of leading indicators are in place such as regular inspections, audits, job observations, and near miss reporting (may be considered lagging or leading)
  • These indicators are used to look for opportunities to intervene and prevent poor practices prior to a deviation that could cause harm or loss
  • Incident investigations completed for significant events are able to pinpoint areas of improvement that are able to prevent repeat occurrences
  • Strong, and effective safety committees are in place, or teams that meet regularly and review relevant topics
  • Use of an inclusive approach which looks to engage stakeholders in key safety decisions.  This helps get a broad understanding of stakeholder insights prior to making significant decisions or changes
  • There is almost always strong support from the top management and leadership
  • Orientations are customized to the workplace, relevant to the nature of the workers tasks, and risks scaled to an appropriate length, provide resources for future reference, and are reinforced by workplace activities
  • Training is based on hazard and risks identified and controlled within the organization, and is well organized, and effective
  • Few divides exist between how the processes and procedures indicate work needs to be done safely, and how the workers are completing the work
  • Supervisors are engaged, and effective at identifying opportunities for improvement, and supporting the workforce
  • Regular meetings identify and discuss safety in the workplace
  • Workers feel supported and are able to identify or discuss safety issues with their supervisors

While this is not an exhaustive list, there are good examples of how an organization can use a preventive approach to identify what’s working well in the organization and what might need improvement.

In a high risk environment, or if the above means aren’t effectively executed, workplaces can still be unsafe or may not have as strong a safety culture as expected. Yet these workplaces may still have few or no significant injuries or events, the important thing is being able to understand what level of safety your organization is at, and why, and where it can be improved.

Effective hazard identification and management is fundamental starting point to both an effective safety program, and good safety culture. Use our Hazard Snap Assessment to get a feel for how well your organization manages workplace hazards.  Submit it for a free consultation to answer questions on where you may have areas of improvement.


Posted in: Safety Blog