What’s The Best Measure Of Safety Culture?

February 25, 2018 No Comments

In my 40 year safety career, I’ve found that companies with the lowest turnover rates in their type of industry usually also have low accident rates and excellent safety cultures.  While there are certainly more precise and scientific measures of safety culture,  I believe that turnover rates provide the best quick, easy, and cheap “snapshot” of an organizations’ culture.

Turnover is a statistic that almost all companies maintain, so it is readily available (no cost or effort to obtain).  Of course if an employer has the time/money/desire to measure their culture with more precision, they can certainly hire consultants to do an in-depth evaluation using sophisticated and proven survey instuments.

Organizations with low turnover are often known as the “preferred” employers in the area.  When they have a rare job opening, hundreds of people stand in line to apply.  Plain and simple – they are a great place to work and invest a career.

One medium sized Wisconsin employer has never posted a help wanted ad.  They are a terrific place to work and the preferred employer in their area.  This company has not had a recordable accident in years.  When they have a rare job opening, their employees tell friends and relatives about the opening.  New hires are then selected from the pool of people that are recommended by their own employees!

  • Companies with low turnover and a first class safety culture generally offer their employees good wages and benefits.  They can do this because they are well run and profitable.  They value their employees and strive to get them invested in the company.  Often they also offer employees profit sharing or ESOP plans.  Well run and profitable companies also have the resources to invest in the latest safety improvements and to hire well qualified safety “professionals” to oversee their EHS programs.
  • Companies with low turnover and a first class safety culture can be very selective when hiring.  They can have their “pick of the litter” so to speak and hire only the best and most qualified job applicants (the “cream of the crop”).  Conversely, companies with high turnover and a poor safety culture typically only see job applicants who are less than desirable and have “lots of baggage”.
  • Companies with low turnover and a first class safety culture respect their employees and solicit suggestions from them (including safety related suggestions).  Companies that don’t have a strong culture of safety put their heads in the sand and not only don’t actively solicit suggestions, but if they do receive any will often not give them serious consideration because they believe that all of the good ideas come from management – not the rank and file employees.
  • Companies with low turnover and a first class safety culture have employees who would like to work for the company for a long time.  They realize that if they were to leave, they would likely never again find such a terrific employer to work for.  That’s why low turnover companies’ employees:  report to work fit for duty, pay attention to their jobs, and heed work and safety rules.  They don’t want to mess up, have errors, violate rules, or be viewed as a “problem employee”.  They try hard not to do anything that would lead to discipline or termination.
  • Companies with low turnover and a first class safety culture have employees who are happy and cheerful.  We all know that workplace stress can contribute to accidents.  Also, studies that have shown that “cheerful” workplaces are associated with lower accident rates.

If I were looking for a job as a safety manager for a company, I would pay close attention to any prospective employer’s historical turnover rates.  A company with low turnover is not only  a good place for employees to work, it’s also a great place for a safety professional to invest his or her career.

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