Management commitment key to safety culture

By Rich Gaul, BWC Safety Technical Adviser

Leadership is the key to creating the organizational change necessary to achieve a world-class safety culture. What is safety culture?  Culture is like the wind: you can’t really see it, but you see the effects it has on everything around it.  Although you may not be able to see the culture, its presence is very palpable and it influences behaviors and attitudes throughout each workplace.  Top management’s commitment, support and attitude about safety will determine what type of safety culture exists in your workplace.

workplace safety training picA recent study by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) analyzed safety processes and management factors in organizations with high, low, and exceptionally low incidence rates and found significant correlations between safety results and the core management competencies of the organization.  The study concluded that “Management commitment to safety is the major controlling influence in obtaining success.”

According to safety expert, the late Dr. Dan Petersen, “Leadership is crucial to safety results, as leadership forms the culture that determines what will and will not work in the organization’s safety efforts.”  If leadership is the key to success or failure – top management will either lead the safety culture change or they will be the barrier that prevents it.

It is not enough to simply change objectives, create superficial gimmicks or artificial excitement around safety.  A world-class safety culture can only be a reality when safety is fully integrated into the executive mission and the line management organization. Enhancing overall safety in the most efficient manner requires the adoption of a systems approach to safety management.

A systems approach to safety management is the application of engineering and management principles, criteria, and techniques to achieve an acceptable level of safety throughout all phases of a system.  It involves a detailed evaluation of and changes to the operational systems, structures and processes that drive organizational performance.  This process includes goal setting, planning, documentation, and regular evaluation of performance to ensure that goals are being met.  Systems safety necessitates a cultural change in an organization so that “safe operations” is the objective behind every action and decision by both those who develop and oversee procedures and those who carry them out.

Systems safety does not involve imposing an additional layer of oversight or regulations on the organization.  Rather, it is an organizational shift that is seamlessly integrated into the routine day-to-day operations.  Systems safety takes a proactive approach to safety management that goes beyond the prescriptive audits and checklist-based inspections to develop procedures and indicators that anticipate safety risk.  Safety responsibilities are spread throughout all levels and segments of the organization.  This increase in the number of people engaged in safety activities makes it less likely that a hazard will go undetected and possibly lead to an accident.  System safety recognizes that human and organizational errors can never be entirely eliminated and seeks to reduce them by developing a safety-oriented culture.

For additional information or assistance with your safety management system, please check out our web site at and go to the safety services section.

Blog sources:

  • The impact of management’s commitment on Employee Behavior: A field study – American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE)
  • Safety Management: A call for (R)evolution by Larry Hanson – Professional Safety: Journal of the American Society of Safety Engineers
  • Aviation safety management systems as a template for aligning with business strategy in other industries. By AJ Bayuk, Creative Ventures International LLC., 400 South 2nd Street, Suite 402_B, Philadelphia, PA 19147
  • Shaping a Safety Culture by Andrew D. ShamRao, Ph.D.
  • Integrating Safety Into TQM by Dan Petersen

5 thoughts on “Management commitment key to safety culture

  1. Thanks for your article Rich.
    Just to add to your comment that management commitment to safety is the major controlling influence in obtaining success. Research also concludes that the culture of an organisation is 80% attributable to leadership, and that the organisation’s outcomes are 60% attributable to culture.
    I’m looking forward to the day when boards and CEOs can unashamedly say: “People, and their safety at work, really are the most important asset we have – they are more important than financial goals, and we are going to make their health and safety our number one priority”


  2. Thank you Hamish for reading the blog and following us, we appreciate your comments. I could not agree with you more. Not only should the safety and well-being of our employees be more important than financial goals, but research is increasingly demonstrating that employee safety and health may be the key to a business’s financial success.

    A recent article in the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine – January 5, 2016, demonstrated the link between a significant investment in employee safety and health and financial performance in the marketplace. I encourage you to read this article and feel free to comment.

    Excerpt: “The results provide evidence that the stock appreciation of companies that are recognized for excellence in health and wellness, safety or both, out-performs that of other companies that have not been so recognized,” the authors wrote, adding that the results are “consistent with — and augment — the growing body of work that is associating excellence in health, wellness and safety with superior financial performance in the marketplace.”

    – Rich Gaul, BWC Safety Technical Adviser


    • Thank you for the link to the ACOEM article – I have been searching for the sort of information that makes the link between H&S and business performance (I mentioned some of the work I’ve found in my Blog ‘Three Megatrends that will Transform Health and Safety and have seen the results first hand but finding credible research that will help to build the business case for Boards and Senior Management has been a challenge. Do you have any thoughts about the Integrated Health and Safety Index (ISH Index) proposed by ACOEM?
      Thanks Hamish


  3. I am not that familiar with the IHS index but I read the summary report from the Integrated Health and Safety Summit that created this concept. The summit participants represented diverse professional backgrounds and experience in health and safety. The intent of this summit was to discuss the development of an Integrated Health and Safety Index that paralleled the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Discussions throughout the summit focused on how to combine universally applicable strategies in safety, health and wellness, in a symbiotic way to create a “Culture of Health”. They utilized the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’s – Corporate Health Achievement Award’s 1000-point assessment tool and aligned it with the Dow Jones Sustainability Index to create a new Integrated Health and Safety Index (IHS). According to this report, two of the biggest challenges the summit participants faced were:
    1. Defining scalable strategies for integrating and aligning health and safety efforts across operational silos.
    2. Creating a universally applicable measurement system that translates health and safety metrics into business value.

    Although the concept of integrated health and safety is gaining momentum, the number of companies actively exploring this concept remains relatively small. The results of this summit are very encouraging but there is much more work to be done. This is best summed up in the conclusion of the summit report.

    “Although evidence is building that healthier workforces provide a competitive advantage for organizations, more research is needed to better understand the dynamics of cause and effect in IHS programming. Support for government organizations and academic centers that are engaged in active research on this topic is vital.”

    Rich Gaul, BWC Safety Technical Adviser


  4. Developments in the commercial and industrial landscape demand innovative and enhanced ways of protecting employees. Management and business owners play a critical role in creating a culture of safety. Moreover, safety signs can reinforce this culture of safety while also demonstrating an employer’s care for their worker’s well being.


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