How to Create an Effective Safety Culture

workers addressing safety concerns

Safety in the workplace is often an afterthought or thought of as a hindrance to getting real work done. Having a couple of dusty signs warning your workers of loud noises isn't necessarily a strong safety culture.

No matter where your team currently lands on the scale, you can build a strong safety culture and effect real change in your organization and team. Creating a culture of safety in the work environment goes a long way towards changing the mindset, and the actions, of both workers and management.

Let's break down how to get there.

What does “Creating a Safety Culture” mean?

Creating a safety culture in the workplace means that all workers should be included in the safety and health program, given the training and tools to recognize good and bad safety practices, and feel comfortable advocating for their own safety and the safety of others around them. Employees should feel empowered to improve safety in their work area and throughout the facility.

Why do we want to promote a safety culture?

Any safety and health program needs the meaningful participation of workers and their representatives in order to be effective. Employees often know the most about potential hazards associated with their jobs and have much to gain from a successful program and the most to lose if the program fails. Successful programs tap into this knowledge base and use it to further the safety culture surrounding the work environment.

Who should participate?

All workers at a worksite should participate, including managers, supervisors, operators, and those workers employed by contractors, subcontractors, and temporary staffing agencies. Employee representatives should also participate in the program if there is a union in place.

6 ways to create an effective safety culture

Improving your safety culture doesn't happen overnight. Building a safety culture requires a solid foundation, time, and a commitment to safety. An effective safety and health program should include the following:

  1. Encouragement and participate in the program
  2. Willingness to report safety and health concerns
  3. Education and Access to safety and health information
  4. Freedom from the fear of retaliation
  5. Empowerment to shut down a task they feel is unsafe
  6. Encouragment to share their stories

OSHA has created guidance and recommended practices for safety and health programs that can be found here.


Encouraging participation throughout your company starts with properly communicating safety standards. Once your employees understand safety standards, they can help with establishing, operating, evaluating, and improving the safety and health program. Team participation can be taken a step further by not just improving safety dialogue between workers and management, but also through showing workers how they can help keep each other safe.

Reporting Concerns

Workers should feel comfortable providing input and reporting safety or health concerns. A good way to do this is to maintain an open-door policy that invites workers to talk to managers about safety and to make suggestions. Communication between coworkers is important as well, and should also be encouraged! Conversations between coworkers about potential concerns could bring to light other risks that workers may not have known about or anticipated. Create an area in the facility where employees can report safety concerns, near-misses, or suggestions. This could simply be a lockbox on the wall that employees can submit paper cards of their concern. Be sure to label that the box is for reporting safety items and communicate it to all employees. Here are a few tips on how to address safety concerns within your company.

Access to Information

It is important to note that workers can only fully participate in the program when they have access to information they need to engage effectively and have opportunities to participate in all phases of program design and implementation. Communicate with employees about openings in the site’s Safety Committee or tell them about the safety reporting lockbox so they are aware of the opportunities to participate in the program. Post signs on bulletin boards, or on the Canteen’s TVs to increase worker knowledge of these opportunities. Workers should inspire each other to learn more about safety concerns and best practices associated with their jobs so that they can better protect each other from hazards. Supervisors should discuss risk assessments with workers on their specific tasks so the workers know the hazards and the controls in place to protect themselves and their co-workers. When workers are aware of the hazards and controls, they can look out for each other when they realize that someone is performing an unsafe act or they simply forgot to use their local exhaust ventilation or put on their chemical resistant gloves.

Eliminating Retaliation

Retaliation from management or from other team members should not be a concern when raising safety and health issues, reporting injuries, illnesses, and hazards, participating in the program, or exercising safety and health rights. It is against the law to retaliate against an employee under OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Retaliation could be firing, demoting, denying benefits, or reducing pay or hours. Management should make it clear that employees can report safety hazards or incidents without fear of repercussions; and it is essential to report any near misses, even if there was an unsafe action leading up to the near-miss; doing so could prevent a future injury. Using an anonymous reporting structure could help those employees who feel more reserved or unsafe in the communication of the hazards.

Empower Employees

All workers should feel empowered to initiate or request a temporary suspension or shut down of any work activity or operation they believe to be unsafe. Since your employees will know the most about what is and is not ‘normal’ to a task, allowing them to come forward and ask about investigating unsafe situations is a good practice, even if it might result in lower production for that day. Coworkers should remind each other not to prioritize production over safety, no matter the pressure or deadline.

Encourage Employees to Share

Including the teams' input at every step of your site’s safety program improves the visibility of workplace hazards. When an employee reports a hazard, it must be mitigated in a timely manner to prevent future injuries or illnesses. Employees will feel empowered if they know their suggestions and concerns are taken seriously by management. Empowered employees create program ownership among workers and enhance understanding of how the program works. Ultimately, this helps to sustain the program over time.

Improving Safety Culture

To improve your company’s safety culture, encourage workers to participate in all aspects of the safety program including reporting safety concerns or suggesting an idea to make a process safer. Ensure employees have access to information such as risk assessments, how to report safety hazards, and how previously reported safety concerns were corrected. Management should make workers feel comfortable to share safety concerns and should fix them in a timely manner. Management should never retaliate against an employee for raising a safety concern or reporting an injury or illness. Empower employees by encouraging them to share their health and safety stories from their past experiences. By following these best practices for improving safety culture, the safety program will flourish and be sustained for years to come.

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