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Take the 'pulse' of your safety culture
Surveys provide anonymous feedback
The first step toward building a new safety culture may be taking stock of the one you've already got. Do your employees believe that managers care about employee safety? Do they feel comfortable alerting managers to hazards? Do they use personal protective equipment when it's recommended?
One way to measure your safety climate is through a confidential employee perception survey. The National Safety Council, a non-profit, membership-based safety organization based in Itasca, IL, provides one such survey through its consulting service.
The council presents the results as percentiles, comparing the results to a database of more than 500 companies. While most of those companies are not in health care, the basic tenants of a safety culture apply across disciplines, says Terry Miller, manager of employee perception surveys.
"All industries are unique in certain ways when you get down to the specifics, but there are many more commonalities from one industry to another," he says. "There are certain components or factors that separate a good safety program from one that is mediocre and poor."
a.alyzing injuries and injury rates can certainly tell you about hazards that need to addressed, but they aren't the best information, asserts Miller. Ideally, you want to prevent the injuries from happening in the first place. In fact, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is in the early stages of drafting a rule that would require the identification of hazards before they cause injury.
Injuries also may fluctuate based on a variety of factors. "Safety culture is really the collective value and norms that an organization has that are more timeless and universal than a program or the way [employers] are handling a particular situation," says Miller. "It's an attitude that is long-lasting and pervasive. It takes longer to change culture or implement a good culture."
The National Safety Council predominantly uses paper questionnaires, which can be provided to employees at an orientation, staff forum, or safety event. The results show a ranking of safety issues from those that demonstrated a strong commitment to safety to safety items that compared poorly with national norms.
For example, employees can agree or disagree (on a five-point scale) that "safety takes a back seat to everyday tasks" or that "I can protect myself and my coworkers through my actions on the job."
Surveys can be customized to obtain employee perceptions of specific safety programs. And employees can add written comments.
Employee perception surveys provide a way to get broad employee input beyond the handful of employees who may serve on safety committees, says Miller.
Surveys also can be a way to emphasize to employees and managers that you want to hear about near-misses and hazards so they can be addressed. That is "the hallmark of a good program," says Miller.
[Editor's note: More information about the National Safety Council's employee perception surveys is available at www.nsc.org/surveys.]