In part one of this two-part blog, we discussed what a safety culture is and where it begins. We concluded that safety culture is a cumulation of all the personnel, from the very top of the organization to the lowest position, seeking to make safety the highest priority.

How does one go about instilling a safety mindset in each employee? We have to go back up the ladder to the CEO. Don’t take the short cut to get to the car and trip on the curb during a down pour. Sure you’ve done it a hundred times before, but take the time and put on the raincoat and use the proper sidewalks and crosswalks. It’s the little things that seem so common that stick out in other’s minds. You need to practice what you preach. Take every opportunity to advance the safety culture when given. Case in point:

An employer used to hire a lot of summer workers, mostly young adults and late teens to handle various nonskilled labor jobs. One day a young person was told to clean a certain area by their supervisor who didn’t really give it much thought that anything could go wrong. The young employee mixed two cleaning solutions that shouldn’t have been mixed. A catastrophe was narrowly avoided because of some quick reactions from other workers nearby. Moral of the story, never mix ammonia and bleach. This is mostly common sense, you say, but this young person was never told this by anyone — not their parents, their employer, or their supervisor. They assumed it was common knowledge that those two chemical agents shouldn’t be mixed. So, what happened after this near tragic accident? The employer immediately removed both items of the cleaning supplies, then chastised the supervisor for failing to properly supervise the employee and had the employee moved to more menial/safer labor until it was time to lay off the employee.

This was an opportunity to nurture the safety culture of the business and to increase the “safety culture mindset of each individual working for them.” But it was lost and employees' minds were left wondering how the company could just take their cleaning gear that was needed just because it wasn't used properly by someone that didn’t realize the dangers “because they were never told of the dangers.” If more thought had gone into the process there could have been several things that should have happened that would have done more to increase employee safety and increase the safety culture mindset of each individual. Isn’t that what we are after, to improve the way we do things to prevent these types of accidents from happening in the future?

First, there should have been complete openness from management via a memo sent to the entire workforce detailing the accident and the dangers of mixing these two chemicals or mixing chemicals in general. Then there should have been a revamp of the orientation process to ensure that each job is individually reviewed as to the possible dangers involved with the position. Then the orientation should be customized to fit the position. Also, the cleaning items should have been separately stored with information signs warning of the danger in mixing different chemicals.

If this had been done, the company and employees (future and present) would have seen a much improved safety culture. But this didn’t occur and the big take away from this accident was just a lot of grumbling about not having the proper cleaning material because some goofball almost killed himself.

The business person must never lose the opportunity to improve the safety culture of the business and each employee. By grasping every opportunity you will only improve the overall safety results of the business and its employees. The employees will respond to this approach and the benefits will be mutual. By “talking the talk and then walking the walk” you will help produce a safety conscious workforce.

Richard McCann lives in Cape May, NJ and in 2018 retired Captain from the Cape May Lewes Ferry; and is the founding member of Ballast Marine Services, LLC in 2015; and is a member of the Passenger Vessel Association, member # 552950.