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Who Owns Your Safety Culture?

As we move toward the end of summer and into fall, the time for establishing budgets for next year is fast approaching. In this time of unprecedented technological advances and automation in the workplace, one question that you may face is this: how does the company justify anything less than significant increases in the budget for health and safety efforts when the company has made public pronouncements such as “safety is job number 1.” How this question is answered will likely depend on who owns the safety culture for the company and how good the company is at assessing and discussing risk.

Budgeting is a necessity. However, if the company has not shown that its safety culture belongs to the top management of the organization and that culture is not fully communicated throughout the entity, safety culture may be undermined by poorly considered budget decisions. In order to explain budget decisions that impact safety, a company needs to carefully communicate the reason for those decisions and how those decisions relate to risk assessment by the company. Failing to communicate about these decisions with the workforce can lead to huge morale problems. If workers do not understand why their company has made a budget decision impacting how they safely perform their job, those workers may conclude that the great-sounding slogans about safety are not really reflective of the true culture of the company, and that the company doesn’t really care about employees’ safety.

This type of culture creep can also create significant safety issues when it trickles down to employees who perceive that the company is blasé about safety. A worker who does not believe in the company’s stated safety culture will often take more risk and shortcuts. I have seen a number of instances where a disgruntled worker took a “who cares” approach to safety, leading to injuries to himself and others.

As many industries see greater improvements in technology, the nature of safety issues in the workplace is changing. Therefore, safety culture needs to be owned throughout the company and there needs to be open communications about that culture, risk assessment, budgetary restraints, and the role of new technology in order to ensure that the modern workplace includes workers who understand the importance of safe operations.

This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.