Topics that Improve Safety Culture

Topics that Improve Safety Culture

By Annette Satterly, Risk Management Associate and Harry Cheff, Risk Management Associate

Many of us panic when we think about workplace safety and, as part of that anxiety, the challenges of changing safety culture within a district. I believe that this common sense of concern comes from a lack of time, a vague sense of not knowing where or how to start, and, perhaps most notably, a fear of having no help to do what needs to be when it comes to these pressing and important matters. Please, know, however, that you do not have to go it alone. You have an incredibly powerful team standing by you – your greater employee base. Your staff defines the culture for the district each and every day. So, remember when you’re beginning to worry that it’s important for you and your team to exude the confidence that comes with knowing that you are doing your part each day to effectively address all safety concerns and to counter the anxiety that so often accompanies this important shared work. 

Here are some safety topics to help get you started: 

  1. The Softer Side of Safety

If your current safety program resembles little more than a list of top-down demands – even if it isn’t top-down in the least – then it is time to leverage employees themselves for safety messaging. Ask everyone (not just the safety committee) to submit reasons “why they stay safe.” Is it because a particular loved one relies upon them? Is it because of an incident that brought safety practices to light? The key, of course, to changing the culture is to elevate and celebrate the very personal and compelling answers to these kinds of questions. Posters, digital signage, photos, standing agenda items focusing on safety, a morning announcement, and a blurb on the reader board are just a few examples of how you can showcase these personal and surprisingly powerful testimonies. And regardless of which methods you choose, make sure that they are easy to update. The more colleagues see timely reminders as to how and why everyone is safe, the more they will realize just how much is at stake in this collaborative enterprise.

  1. Spot the Safety Issues

It is time to start educating the entire district about looking for potential hazards. Sometimes a safety issue will stick out like a sore thumb, other times it is hidden in plain sight. That is why it is critical to have everyone looking out for safety. So, rather than holding a sit-down safety meeting, try an approach that is a bit more fun. Mockup a photo that includes a staged safety issue(s). Challenge everyone to find the issue(s). And regardless of which route you choose to go, be sure to reward or acknowledge those who got it right. Make this a very public and positive event—of course, the more positive the outcome, the more likely employees will be to participate the next time.

  1. Promote Your Investments in Safety

An investment in safety affects more people than many of our colleagues may realize. You want your staff to know how much you care about their safety and all that you are doing to help keep them safe. So, when possible and appropriate, highlight investments you have made on their behalf. For example, if lighting added outside of the kitchen entrance allowed for safer entry/exit for the staff, share that anecdote and other similar success stories. In brief, it’s in your best interest to remind your staff that safety is a good investment, that it leads to fewer accidents and more district-wide savings.

  1. Health and Wellness

It is tempting to put health and wellness issues into a different compartment than typical job safety concerns associated with accidents and injuries. But when you consider that everyone in the building can potentially contribute to the spread of the flu and that flu-like symptoms can reduce attentiveness, response time, and absenteeism, you can see why everyone should be a part of these awareness campaigns. It is also one more opportunity to show that your district cares for its employees.

  1. Weather Alerts

You might think that in today’s world of constant weathercasts and mobile weather apps notifying employees about weather conditions and hazardous roadways would be unnecessary. However, because everyone’s life is getting more hectic and information overload more prevalent, you should assume nothing about people may know and instead post weather alerts and/or send district-wide texts or emails—doing so reinforces the idea that safety is a top priority.

  1. Employee Recognition

It’s in the district’s best interest to recognize its faculty and staff safety stars on a regular basis. When doing so, make sure their names and their actions for safety are seen by everyone. They may believe that they are simply doing their job, but by doing it safely and injury-free, they are setting a good example, keeping themselves and others safe, and, in the process, saving the district money and.

Please remember that everything we do in our schools is watched and mimicked by students. Our actions may set them on a path for a safe future or on a path for injury and pain. Also, please do not participate in any action that you would not allow a student to do. While you are keeping yourself safe and injury-free, you are also acting as a safety role model.

For additional information on improving a district’s safety culture, please contact either of the Risk Management Associates. Annette may be contacted at or at 406-457-4410.  Harry may be contacted at or at 406-457-5315.

We have adapted this article to better suit schools and their needs rather than the general industry. The original article was written by Sean Donnelly for the Marlin Company on November 18, 2016, and appears on their webpage https://www.themarlincompnay.ocm/blog-articles

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