COVID-19: A catalyst for safety culture change?

A catalyst for safety culture change

By Madison Hanscom, PhD

COVID-19 has changed our way of life inside and outside of work. It has forced us to rethink the way we work and enjoy time off. Businesses have been hit extremely hard, and most have been forced to make fast decisions to protect workers and customers.
Many companies found themselves responding in ways to stay resilient. Millions of workers transitioned to a virtual model, and for those still onsite, there are new ways of doing things and approaching everyday work.

As a result of these changes, cultural norms have been upended. What was valued in the past might no longer be consistent with the current model. Routines and attitudes prior to COVID-19 might not align with how things are currently progressing. Quick and creative innovation has led many companies to implement changes in weeks that would typically have required years to achieve. We’ve seen companies accomplish incredibly successful changes that have stimulated positive change in the safety culture during this time. These have included:

• More conversations about safety than ever
• More attention to continually improving protocol related to safety
• More active care from leadership
• More emphasis on employee wellbeing
• More thought about the safety of customers and the public
• More preventative measures for health and safety
• More investments in digital technology for collaboration and knowledge sharing
• More commitment to safety from senior management
• More thought about continual improvement
• More people outside of safety talking and thinking about safety

When times are tough, it is a particularly good time to put a magnifying glass to the culture. Values are put to the test when companies are strained and facing ambiguity. Thus, when safety prevails as the most important standard during trying times, this shows incredible promise for the future.

What now?

Use this time of change to your advantage. Although COVID-19 is a time of challenging shifts, it can also be an opportunity for positive innovation and safety culture improvement. During this time it is critical to create, sustain, and embed positive changes. A great example of this is safety conversation. Right now, many leaders are talking about safety with their employees more than ever. Build mechanisms to sustain these safety conversations over time so they continue about safety topics unrelated to COVID-19.

A time of crisis puts the significance of safety culture into perspective. Leaders should think about strengthening the culture surrounding safety during times of hardship. However, it is also important to be preventative and initiate efforts to develop a strong, positive safety climate during times of prosperity.

At Propulo Consulting, we care about the health and wellbeing of workers. Our team has the expertise to help your business build a safer and healthier culture. Partner with us to conduct a rigorous safety culture assessment and roadmap a change process that is custom to your needs.