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How does creating a culture around training and education empower and encourage employees to assess their work areas for hazards, as well as play an active role in eliminating those hazards?

Companies often treat the idea of developing a plan around a “safe culture” as something that would be “nice to have one day,” but it’s put on the back burner as other initiatives and business goals take priority. It’s not until a major incident – or even worse, a fatality – occurs that these companies finally get serious about safety. By then it’s too late, resulting in a demoralized workforce, a tarnished reputation and a feeling of regret that they weren’t more proactive.

With global 24/7 news coverage and the advances of social media, word of damaging compliance issues can spread like wildfire, and companies that don’t adopt a compliance culture put themselves and their most valuable asset – their employees – at risk. Workplace injuries and fatalities can profoundly affect the lives of workers and their families.

The following are the essential steps that compliance leaders should take to foster a safe, ethical and compliant company culture.

Identify and analyze risks. Risks to the employees and organization should be identified and prioritized, knowing that high-risk issues will require the greatest commitment to training to achieve behavioral change. In an ideal world, companies want to prioritize every risk. However, it’s crucial to be strategic and efficient with everyone’s time, so low-risk issues should receive minimal – yet appropriate – attention. Some examples of high-risk issues include transportation incidents; slip, trips and falls; exposure to harmful chemicals or environments; and workplace violence.

Once the risks have been prioritized, they should be aligned to support key business goals and incorporated into the organization’s strategic plan. As such, some key goals may include revenue growth, expense reduction, lost time and risk reduction.

Stay relevant. Assign training that is relevant to the employees’ job duties and responsibilities. Forcing employees to take training that isn’t relevant can sour them on all compliance training and reduce its effectiveness. They will not feel as invested or engaged. A job hazard analysis should be considered for every job, with the appropriate training assignments based on that analysis. Compliance training programs must provide information to help workers recognize risks and the appropriate actions to take to mitigate them. The process of keeping all employees compliant to their specific role can be overwhelming, so having an effective learning compliance-based management system is crucial.

To keep it relevant, compliance leaders should proactively seek feedback from the learners, listen to their concerns and act quickly on their needs. To truly have a culture built on compliance, employees should feel that they have the power to improve safety and quality in the organization. Once employees realize how the training is relevant to them, their family and the company’s success, they will feel more invested in the compliance program.

Leadership buy-in. Cultural change has to start at the top. A safe, people-centric culture needs to have the full support of the leadership team. Leaders can demonstrate their commitment to safety and compliance culture by including a video of themselves in the training. Leaders should view training as an opportunity to directly communicate expectations of what is and is not acceptable employee behavior. It is where employees become aware of what their leaders expect of them, how they will be held accountable, and how valuable training is for them and their family. It’s important to empower employees with the ability to be responsible for the safety of themselves and their co-workers. This is the hallmark of a mature safety culture.

The good news is that there’s still time for most companies to fully embrace and integrate safety compliance into their culture. It all starts with learning to articulate the benefits of a safety culture and knowing the risks that occur when a company doesn’t properly train its workforce to achieve that goal.