Developing a Safety Culture in a Team of Lone Workers

By Brye Sargent, CSP

The term “Safety Culture” is passed around as though it’s something an organization needs to create. Similar to a policy or procedure.  However, culture is not created.  It’s developed over time by the leadership team.  And a “Safety Culture” is not separate from the overall organizational culture.  Instead, it’s an element of it. 

In a basic sense, culture is how an organization does business.  It’s the common beliefs, goals, attitudes, and values that can be found within a group of people. How this group thinks about and includes safety in their processes is their Safety Culture. 

What Creates a Safety Culture? 

Unlike most societal cultures, businesses have a hierarchy.  There’s generally one person, or a group of people at the top making the business decisions.  And at each level of the organization there are leadership tiers.  

Leadership sets the goals.  Their beliefs and values are demonstrated in their decisions.  How they communicate and interact with their staff shapes the attitudes of the teams.  Therefore, the organization’s culture will always be developed by the leadership team. 

When that leadership team values safe work practices, it’s reflected in how they do business.  Safety is part of the discussion when making decisions.  Working safely is an expectation communicated by the team.  And compromises in safety are not considered because it would go against the organization’s values and beliefs. 

Different Environments, Different Cultures 

What makes developing a business culture difficult is that every person is a part of several different cultures.  When they are at home, they are part of that culture.  When they are at work, it may be a different culture.  As they interact with their friends, neighbors, or community, a different culture develops. 

When each of these cultures match the individuals core values there’s very little conflict.  However, it’s rarely the case that they match perfectly.  This creates situations where they act one way at work and differently at home or in their community.  This is normal human behaviour as we all strive to fit in with the group. 

It’s easier to do when you are working with the group for 8-10 hours a day in the same environment.  They’re exposed to the company culture the entire time.  The goals, values, and beliefs organically become part of how they work. 

It becomes trickier when most of the worker’s time is spent on their own.  Without the consistent exposure to the company culture, the human brain will want to revert to what they are used to and comfortable with.  And that’s likely not the same beliefs as the company. 

How Core Values Are Developed 

Core values are developed through three main avenues: Childhood, Experiences, and Knowledge. 

Many times, we think that the values learned as a child are stuck in us forever.  Although they’re hard to change, it’s not impossible.  In fact, experiencing an event that conflicts with a core value can change it, as can learning something new. 

As a business leader, there is little you can do about childhood beliefs and values.  But through sharing positive experiences and knowledge, core values can be shaped to match an organization. 

Remote Teams Changes the Safety Culture 

Until the core values of remote workers match the organizations, when they’re on their own for a period of time, they will likely revert back to the beliefs they’ve had most of their lives. 

The human brain is constantly looking for ways to stay in its comfort zone by doing and believing what it always has.  In the workplace, it may be easy for it to stick to the company’s safety culture, but on its own, the beliefs from the past creep in and get stronger. 

This is why a worker who always wear PPE at work can be found without it when doing a similar task at home.  

As workers make this context switch of every day working safe when at work and disregarding safety when on their own, it changes the company culture.  Instead of it being the way WE do business it’s how THEY want business done.  The company’s culture, including their safety culture, turns into a separate entity. 

And the leadership team is stuck in the middle.  Their work may require remote workers or their team may prefer to work remotely.  Leaving them trying to build a culture with a team who rarely interacts with each other and resides in their own cultural bubble. 

What Leadership Can Do to Develop a Remote Worker Safety Culture 

Working with a remote team does make developing a culture a little harder, but it can be done.  They key is to make the remote workers feel like they are a valued members of the team and to communicate with them often. 

Just because they work alone, doesn’t mean that they should feel alone.  Here are five ways to instill your company and safety culture with your remote workers. 

  1. Consistent communication – checking in with them regularly just like you would if they had a desk down the hall from you.  This lets them know they have someone to turn to when needed. And it helps reinforce the company culture.
  2. Listening to their concerns and taking action – never disregard a worker’s concern, instead show them that you are listening and will take action on it.  Then always follow up with them to make sure it was addressed.
  3. Collaborating with remote workers on projects or an idea – when remote workers aren’t present, it’s easy to “do it yourself” instead of going out of the way to communicate new ideas or projects with them.  But doing so will generate a culture of teamwork.  Without the break room to bump into them, you’ll have to go out of your way to include them in these discussions
  4. Soliciting feedback – regularly ask for feedback from your remote workers, don’t wait for them to speak up themselves.  By specifically asking how the work, task, or project could be improved.
  5. Empower them with stop work authority – a culture of teamwork comes with some trust.  And trusting your employees to make the decision that the work site isn’t safe and to stop the work on their own will ensure your safety culture continues when you’re not there.

Utilizing products like SolusGuard Mobile or SolusGuard Aware can make staying connected to your remote teams easier.  Your workers will see these products as a way to be part of the team.