Safety Culture and Coaching Climate


  • Author Ahmed Elbeialy
  • Published August 1, 2021
  • Word count 782

Every human group develops its own culture that consists of knowledge and practices. All companies, big or small, have a safety culture, but that’s not to say that all safety cultures are the same. Some are positive and effective, while others are negative and downright dangerous. Essentially, a company’s safety culture is the shared set of values and practices that guide all employees’ behavior. It’s what employees do and how they act even when nobody is watching.

Today’s organizations cannot depend solely on management and safety personnel to communicate about safety. Everyone in the organization must be empowered to coach others on safety issues.

For example, many organizations track the number of days each work area has gone without an accident. While these methods and numbers are an important part of management, they aren’t enough to build a strong safety culture. Leaders must be able to inspire others to help maintain a safe workplace. This calls for exceptional leadership and well-developed people skills. Most organizations have measures for managing and reporting safety practices, but a strong safety culture means going beyond the traditional methods of managing safety. We need a culture that inspires behavioral changes in the employees instead of teaching them how to act safely.

To understand how to set such a culture, we need to consider the following three questions:

  1. What does the organization do to control safety?

  2. What do the people do to improve safety?

  3. How do people think and feel about safety?

Since most of the traditional existing safety cultures were based on situational and behavioral aspects covered through the first and the second, we should focus on the third question, the psychological aspects.

To understand how the psychological aspects control the future of any organization’s safety culture, we would need to look at what is called the safety climate.

There are significant differences between an organization’s culture and its climate. The climate of an organization can be changed almost overnight. New safety systems, procedures, and leadership changes can alter the work climate rapidly and effectively. Culture, on the other hand, evolves, often a long time. Therefore, to change an organization’s culture, we need first to change the climate.

Every individual employee has their own unique safety culture, and these cultures are often in conflict. So the effective option for changing culture is to forget about trying to enact a cultural change and focus instead on developing an engaging and interactive workplace climate that makes people buys-in to safety.

One obvious way to do that is by developing a climate that provides a sense of trust and care, a climate directed to people’s hearts and minds. If such a climate is established, then over time, people will automatically adjust their values, attitude, and beliefs (safety culture) to fit the climate they are engaging in.

That climate will help reset the people’s norm, and then eventually, the desired safety culture will appear.

If leaders and individuals exhibit coaching as a style of communication, this will improve the safety climate. Individuals follow the rules because they want to, and Zero Incidents becomes a choice, not a goal or a company targe.

The target is to generate more visible leaders in safety. Over time, it will cause people to reassess their deep beliefs and values about safety and positively affect the safety culture. Through the actions of safety leaders, we can create a positive safety culture, resulting in better safety performance, which will help keep our employees safe at work.

But now remains the most difficult question, how can we transform leaders into visible leaders in safety?

An employee can be a hard-working individual, he can have the required skill and knowledge, but all of that won’t be enough to develop a coaching behavior that can make people buys-in to safety.

The secret is the attitude. Adapting a coach-like attitude is the secret factor that will get our leaders starting their transformation journey.

Imagine what a typical leader does if he observes an unsafe act/condition at the site.

Yes, exactly. Does he start to see the reason why the person was conducting this violation?. He is looking for the problem! And a typical question that will be raised in similar situations will mostly start with WHY?

This leader focused on the violator’s behavior and practice, and his question with Why is steering the mind toward blame and pushing the violator to find excuses out of fears.

He was coaching the problem, not the person …… the next article, we shall continue discovering how to use a coaching attitude to transform leaders into visible leaders in safety…… stay tuned :)

Specializing in QHSE management, I’ve amassed over 14 years of experience in construction project management., I’m managing a portfolio of construction and maintenance projects for Linde Engineering APAC in more than ten countries

Having recently completed Associate certified coach accredit by the International coaching federation,

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