In the last four decades since the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), worker deaths have significantly decreased - from 38 a day on average in 1970 to 13 in 2014. But, 13 a day is still too many.

Creating a culture of safety across an organization is one of the most important things a company can do to safeguard employees, minimize worker’s compensation costs and preserve their reputation. When it comes to doing so, a company must first begin by clearly defining what safety means and how it can be practically implemented, taking into account existing internal processes, workload and overall corporate culture.

Safety principles should come from a set of core values and behaviors that put the topic at the forefront of employee and management thought and behavior, while still considering necessary regulatory compliance requirements for the industry as well. The following are five keys to building a culture of safety with long-lasting benefits.

1. Facilitate Employee Safety Training

Establish a curriculum to conduct regular safety training for all employees that reinforces the importance of an employee’s safety and health. Look at OSHA guidelines for what subjects need to be taught to all employees, versus which are task- or job-specific. A workforce that understands how to identify a hazard and take corrective action will consistently perform at a high level.

2. Establish Accountability at the Management Level

Develop a series of safety-related metrics for project managers and foremen to achieve. Incorporate activities such as safety talks, safety demonstrations and mini inspections into everyday responsibility standards for management- and supervisory-level employees. Track the completion of these proactive actions and incorporate them into the employee review process. When the safety process includes management involvement, it snowballs and gains momentum throughout the organization.

3. Empower Employees

Develop processes that allow individual employees to take action on behalf of their own safety. Hazard identification safety training must include an actionable element that rewards an employee for raising a concern. This will eliminate the perception that whistleblowers are unwelcome. A safety committee or site safety panel made up of all levels of employees should be formed and the group should develop an action plan that outlines their goals and responsibilities. The employee safety groups should be held in the same regard as a third-party consultant when it comes to how much weight their recommendations carry with site management.

4. Prepare for an OSHA Inspection

Develop a process to handle an OSHA inspection. Provide information about the inspection process during employee training. The recommended practice is to have an employee safety representative from each contractor/trade and from the prime/general contractor. Determine which employees will accompany the compliance officer when he/she arrives to explain safety protocols and correct any minor issues noted during the inspection. The inspector will likely exercise the right to speak with employees regarding safety matters onsite. Employees who understand the compliance officers’ job and why they’re onsite are better positioned to answer specific safety questions and give the information requested.

5. Reinvent the Safety Program Often

As regulations change and companies grow and evolve, their safety program should follow suit. No safety program is ever final. As new generations enter the workforce and OSHA updates its regulations, many changes will be necessary to keep an organization in compliance. Subscribing to OSHA’s “Quicktakes” email bulletins as well as reviewing its website on a regular basis is a good start. Also, businesses need to keep an eye out for new learning styles and methods of employee engagement. If one thing is for certain, it’s that a safety culture that isn’t moving forward is moving backward.


Phil Casto is Senior Vice President for Risk Services at HUB International. Casto has extensive experience in the construction, manufacturing and petrochemical industries. He serves as a resource for the insurance brokerage operations, providing solutions in the areas of risk mitigation, safety, regulatory compliance, and workers compensation.