The Importance of a Positive Safety Culture

A new study by a Toronto-based human-resources consulting firm, Morneau Shepell, looks at the question of whether or not significant changes in the workplace have an effect on the mental and physical health of employees.  They conducted a nationwide survey of employers and workers, asking them about their reactions to major organizational changes like job redesign, downsizing, restructuring and mergers.  Only slightly more than one-quarter of employees said that organizational change had improved their health, performance and perceptions of their companies.  About 40 percent of employees said the changes had affected their health and well-being in a negative way.  Thirty per cent of workers claimed that change had negatively affected their job performance, while 43 per cent said that it had affected their perceptions of their employers in a negative way.  These numbers were low enough to make them take notice.  They also covered in the survey that workers 30 years old and younger were more than twice as likely to take sick leave over mental-health concerns than were those older; 61 per cent of employees said that their co-workers had a positive effect on their mental health; and 75 per cent of all respondents cited work culture as the most important issue regarding workplace mental health.

This brings us to the whole importance of a positive work safety culture.  Safety culture refers to how safety is addressed and communicated in the workplace.  It encompasses the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, and values of all employees in an organization in relation to safety. Mental health is at the forefront of safety in the workplace lately and the importance of integrating it into your Safety Management System is crucial.  Paula Allen, vice president of Morneau Shepell, had some advice to employers to address the impact of these organizational changes.  Allen advised to instill a positive problem-solving culture in the work environment, to help workers adapt to change more effectively.  “People who had a positive impact as a result of organizational change had workplaces that had that kind of positive problem-solving culture,” she said.  “It’s really important to consider how adaptive the workplace is and workforces are,” added Allen, citing good communication, availability of resources and managers who know how to support employees as ways to help workers ease into change.  This commitment and involvement from the top down is very important as it is generally agreed that safety culture improvement is driven by senior leaders.

The creation and maintenance of a positive safety culture is an ongoing process and it takes a lot of effort.  With a strong and positive safety culture employees feel cared about and are happier in the workplace.  This contentment translates to fewer sick days, higher productivity and a stronger retention rate.

Hopefully this study will serve as a ‘wake up call’ to employers and remind them of the importance of their involvement for a positive safety culture. Safety CultureSources:

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