A Chat With Our Safety Culture Expert

Safety is a priority at Catamount Consulting. We have recently offered a series of webinars on safety and creating a safety culture. We thought it would be interesting to ask a few questions to Joe Keenan, MBA, CSP from Catamount Consulting.

Question: We’d like to believe most businesses know they need a safety culture, but how common is it? 

Answer: In my 27 years of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) experience, I have found organizations are all over the map when it comes to where they are at in their safety culture journey.

Building a world class safety culture


A good baseline for evaluating a safety culture can be found on the Phases of Safety Engagement above. In Phase 0, there is little, if any, regard given to safety. Production is first and foremost, and safety is viewed as an impediment to production. In Phase 1, a little more emphasis is put on safety, with a Company asking, “what is the absolute minimum I need to do to meet the letter of the OSHA standards.”  In Phase 2, the Company starts to progress by doing a basic evaluation of OSHA recordable and lost-time accidents and putting some basic corrective action plans in place. Phases 0-2 are on the reactionary side of safety, emphasizing discipline and compliance only.

Phase 3 states, “Safety is a top priority” as we move up the progressive scale. While this is an important step, the problem is priorities in a Company can change – especially with a turnover in senior management or significant upheavals in the workplace such as Reductions In Force (RIFs), layoffs, rumors of lost production lines, etc. All of this is currently being experienced in the Plant.

Phase 4 is the next logical step in the progressive scale to developing a world-class safety culture. In Phase 4, “Safety becomes a value.”  Values are embedded in the Company regardless of whether there is a change in senior management or significant changes or upheavals in the Plant.  The ultimate goal is to establish a safety culture where safety is embedded in the organization.

In Phase 5, “Safety is instinctive.”  Just as a Company would not put out a bad quality product, not service a customer, etc., it would not tolerate an unsafe act or unsafe condition taking place.  It would be a foreign concept to allow something unsafe to occur.  Safety becomes woven in the fabric of the DNA of the Company.  Regardless of who is in charge or what production challenges or changes take place, safety will always be first and paramount. Achieving the level of Phase 5 of the Phases of Safety Engagement Model is what the OSHA Voluntary Protection Program is all about.

Question: How hard is it to instill a safety culture in a business and sustain it?

Answer: As stated in the response above, it all depends on how motivated the Leadership Team and Hourly Employees are engaged in the process. Following the steps below will help ensure a successful world-class safety culture can be instilled in an organization.

To meet the OSHA Voluntary Protection Program requirements, all four major elements and sub-elements must be met.

Management Leadership and Employee Involvement:

  • Management commitment and employee involvement are complementary.
  • Management commitment provides the motivating force and resources for organizing and controlling activities within an organization.
  • Employee involvement provides the means through which workers develop and express their commitment to S&H protection.

Worksite Analysis:

  • Worksite analysis involves a variety of worksite examinations to identify existing hazards and conditions and operations where changes might occur to create hazards.
  • Effective management actively analyzes the work and the worksite to anticipate and prevent harmful occurrences.

Hazard Prevention and Control:

  • Triggered by a determination that a hazard or potential hazard exists.
  • Where feasible, prevent hazards by effective design of job or job site.
  • Where elimination is not feasible, control hazards to prevent unsafe and unhealthful exposure.
  • Elimination or control must be accomplished in a timely manner.

 Safety and Health Training:

  • Addresses the safety and health responsibilities of
  • Most effective when incorporated into other training about performance requirements and job practices.
  • Complexity depends on the size and complexity of the worksite and the nature of hazards.

Question: What type of objections can a business owner or manager expect when discussing the implementation of a safety culture?

create a safety culture

Answer: The number one concern will be the cost of implementing the programs necessary to develop a world-class safety culture. Direct costs to the organization come from having an adequate number and trained EHS professional (s) on-site. It also involves allocating resources to expend on fixing safety issues as they come up.  Issues such as:

  • Has a comprehensive machine safety guarding assessment been completed?
  • Have individualized Lockout/Tagout procedures been developed for each piece of equipment?
  • Has a comprehensive Arc Flash Hazard Analysis been done? Etc. The costs of not doing these things can lead to a SIF (Serious Injury or Fatality) occurring and OSHA citations and fines.

Question: How do you keep a safety culture alive and not let the hard work creating a safety culture become stale or nonexistent?

Answer: In a world-class safety culture, the Plant goes from a reactive mode of safety (i.e., actions are taken after an accident takes place, lagging health and safety indications are the norm, etc.) to a positive and proactive mode of safety. In a proactive mode of safety, accidents are targeted before they happen, and safety issues are brought to the forefront by hourly employees actively engaged in the process. In addition, showing continuous improvement in the process inspires employees to be their best when it comes to safety excellence.

Are you looking for help creating a safety culture in your organization?

We are a provider of comprehensive on and off-site training in all facets of MSHA, OSHA, and Work Zone Safety. Contact us to learn more about management training and work zone safety.