Rise in Work Injuries Reinforces Value of Safety Culture

By Michael McGuire | June 27, 2024
Male construction worker shaking supervisors hand.
This article offers five universal tips for building a strong safety culture in most work settings, which includes manufacturing and construction sites.

According to the most recent census data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, incidents of work-related injury rose 7.5% in 2022.

Sadly, work fatalities also hit a 10-year high.

Construction injuries accounted for greater than 1 in 5 work fatalities, the most among all industries.

Amidst an ongoing boom in manufacturing construction, these numbers are a stark reminder that the vital importance of valuing safety can never be overstated.

This article offers five universal tips for building a strong safety culture in most work settings, which includes manufacturing and construction sites. These tips are relevant to the life sciences, consumer and industrial products, aerospace and defense, utilities and transportation industries.

1: Make worker safety a core company value

“To build a successful safety culture,” says Actalent safety consultant Caleb Bowen, “one must first define what success looks like. Depending upon who you ask, that answer could look wildly different.”

Bowen, a board-certified safety expert with Actalent, recently helped turn a client’s struggling safety program into a benchmark of excellence.

“For me,” Bowen says, “success looks like workers and leadership buying-in on learning to place safety as a value and not just a priority, because priorities often change.”

Actalent, a leading engineering and sciences talent solutions company, provides expert project management and safety services to help organizations of all sizes in manufacturing, consumer and industrial products, utilities and construction, transportation and life sciences industries achieve project milestones, while simultaneously improving worker safety.

“Our teams are used to stepping into tough situations with safety,” says Christi Lotz, a program leader at Actalent who supports clients in consumer and industrial products. “We do a great job of turning safety cultures around, saving projects and helping people avoid getting hurt.”

2: Design customized safety programs that align to uniform standards

“Companies are as different from one another as the people who work at them,” says Bowen, who has experience developing safety programs across multiple industries.

Thus, how companies build and sustain strong safety cultures can also vary.

“I have found that even though the standards must be the same for everyone,” Bowen says, “one must customize the approach with each company and subcontractor to bring them all to the same place of excellence.”

3: Build safety cultures upon the trust and respect of your workers

Regardless of the work environment or industry, safety cultures always mature or degrade based on trust, says Actalent regional safety manager and multi-industry safety expert, Tommy Fillyaw.

“Safety starts with building relationships with our co-workers,” says Fillyaw, who has over 17 years of safety expertise and safety leadership experience. “Once these relationships have been developed to the point where trust naturally becomes a part of them, safety becomes a core value.”

For safety managers, Bowen says gaining the trust and respect of workers is a universal requirement to achieve safety excellence.

“This is not about just being seen as a subject matter expert in safety,” says Bowen. “It’s also about having the willingness to be in the trenches with the workers day in and day out. It’s about helping them solve complex, challenging situations in the field that allow production to safely move forward.”

Actalent’s capabilities include having regional health and safety experts who can evaluate, guide and oversee U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-aligned safety programs in the U.S., as well as provincially aligned safety programs in Canada.

4: Safety experts learn from workers

According to Fillyaw, listening is critical to building a strong safety culture.

“I believe the most important aspects of any safety culture shift are the relationships and the trust that is built when we listen to those that we work closest with daily,” Fillyaw says.

From Bowen’s perspective, front-line workers can often provide the most invaluable and impactful safety insights. “Learning to listen to workers is critical,” says Bowen. “Sometimes we must hear the message and not the delivery. Showing empathy and being understanding oftentimes means being willing to take the blinders off and seeing things from other points of view.”

Furthermore, when workers are in involved in finding solutions, they feel invested in the program, according to OSHA.

“With strong working relationships, we tear down those barriers that can lead to confusion regarding a specific task or the work at hand,” says Fillyaw. “When we nurture the working relationships, we can navigate most of the obstacles that present themselves in the work environment which leads to a much stronger safety culture.”

5: Investing in safety will never cost more than the immeasurable loss of a work fatality

Outside of the incalculable human costs, the financial cost of all work-related injuries was estimated at $167 billion in 2021, according to the National Safety Council. One death is estimated to cost $1.34 million.

Within a strong safety culture, the true cost of worker injuries and fatalities are immeasurable.

“Every worker death has profound impacts on family, friends, coworkers and communities,” said OSHA Department of Labor Assistant Secretary Doug Parker. “That is why investing in worker safety and health must be a core value in every workplace across the country.”

Ultimately, a strong safety culture is an environment where employees and leaders are empowered and have the courage to intervene when they see something they know could put a co-worker in a hazardous situation, says Fillyaw.

“We must be our brothers’ keepers,” Fillyaw says.

If you’re interested in strengthening your organization’s safety culture, connect with an expert on Actalent’s project management team today to learn how we can customize a solution.

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