August 4, 2016

Safety Culture in the Food Industry

Wikipedia: Safety culture refers to the ways that safety issues are addressed in a workplace. It often reflects “the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and values that employees share in relation to safety.” In other words, “the way we do safety around here.”


Workforce Dynamics

As the workforce grows larger, it is increasingly difficult to have a family relationship with employees. As a result, each work group develops its own family type of relationship. This means that not all agree, but there is usually a leader who can influence most of those in that work group. This “cultural” leader can have great influence on the behavior of each person in that group. So much so, that this person becomes the unidentified supervisor of the group.

If management can identify the cultural leader, it can go a long way toward improving the safety culture of that work group and, in turn, all the other workgroups.


The Role of the Supervisor

How do we gain the support of the cultural leaders? As the saying goes, safety starts at the top. This is as true today as ever. If the company talks safety and behaves as if production is number one, the safety culture will suffer.

As far as the workforce is concerned, the representatives of the company are the immediate supervisors. Therefore, the relationship of the immediate supervisor to the workforce is a key to their behavior. Many companies do not spend the resources needed to properly train their supervisors—many of which may have come up through the ranks. Without formal training, supervisors may feel as though they have total authority to handle the workers as they see fit.

If upper management is serious about improving the safety culture, they need to recognize how important it is to train supervisors to be “effective” supervisors.


Communication with Supervisors

An effective supervisor not only achieves production objectives, but does it in a safe manner. So, how do we get employees to want to work safely? It helps if the supervisor behaves in a safe manner at all times. Supervisors that do not follow safety rules are telling the workforce that it is acceptable to do what they do. Supervisors must “walk the walk and talk the talk”.

One of the best ways to get the attention of supervisors is to set safety objectives and then hold them accountable. A higher percentage of a supervisor’s performance review should be based on achieving safety objectives. If the criteria for your success are production driven, where would you spend the most time?


Workforce Communications

If the company wants to set safety objectives, it would be a good idea to involve the supervisors. The supervisors should first involve the cultural leaders (if they can be identified). Together, they should be able to set achievable goals. Too many companies do not give the workforce a good reason to behave in a safe manner. There is not only a financial incentive but there should be a moral incentive for employees to look out for their “family” members. A high “modification factor” in your workers compensation premium calculation means you are paying more than you should, which erodes margins that are already thin.

Once objectives have been established, it is important to provide frequent updates. Even daily updates would be good to show progress. Human nature thrives on achieving success. It does not take a large safety budget to drive a safety program. In fact, a safety program that consistently demonstrates that top management is committed is more effective that an expensive prize driven program. Taking a photo of a worker or workgroup that has achieved a milestone goes a long way in showing management’s support for the program. A personal thank you note for a safety suggestion from the owner of the company would be huge in advancing the safety culture.

If the person voicing a concern does not want to be named, supervisors can still acknowledge that someone brought up a safety concern and state how management appreciates the information. Even if the suggestion is not acted on, or may take some time to implement, follow-up is important. Some form of recognition should be provided.



•   The safety culture of an organization is a reflection of its leadership.

•   Management must demonstrate its desire for a safe workplace by behaving accordingly and providing the proper materials and resources.

•   Provide safety and leadership skills training for supervisors.

•   Set achievable safety goals that have been collectively agreed upon.

•   Provide constant updates as to how the company is doing toward meeting the goal.

•   Recognize achievements often and in a timely manner.

•   Refresh programs and implement ideas with a safety program kick-off meetings (that includes upper management) to avoid a decline in employee interest.