Public safety must be embedded in a utility’s culture. It must be central to thought, behavior, and work. According to one safety manager, “It takes a real commitment on behalf of everyone to create and implement a safety culture.” The goal is to create “an environment in which every employee is personally committed to his or her own safety as well as that of others.”
Research confirms the connection. A 2013 study reveals that 72 percent of workers surveyed said that employee engagement is essential in order for an organization to achieve its goals. Recently, in a related article, Public Utilities Fortnightly reported: “If employees are committed, then they will work harder to remedy internal and external problems.”
Research into employee engagement as a means of shaping “high-performance cultures” notes two key steps are required:
- Gaining management buy-in and
- Building employee buy-in and trust.
In other words, for public safety to become embedded in the culture, it must extend from the grassroots to the grass tops—full employee engagement.
Organizational behavior experts note that employee engagement remains every company’s biggest challenge, but when properly managed, the return on investment is significant. This is especially true for utilities whose image is intrinsically tied to safe and reliable operations, and for whom engaged employees translates into meaningful interactions with the community, a strengthened public image, and ultimately, greater business success.
When all levels of an organization understand and devote themselves to the company’s internal and external safety goals, then success can be achieved. Key elements necessary to successfully embed public safety into a culture include:
- Commitment by leadership
- Clearly defined public safety vision
- A working understanding by employees
- Opportunities for involvement at all levels
- Training and development
- Clear communication throughout the organization
- Ongoing assessment and continuous improvement
It is possible to create a financially sustainable culture of public safety. The direct and indirect financial benefits of accident prevention more than pay for the costs of internal and public safety education programs. When leadership gathers input, listens to the people of the organization, and supports internal and public safety efforts, they send a clear message to employees (and the public) that safety is a priority. This commitment by company leadership is crucial.
Studies across various industries report that strong public safety cultures and employee engagement go hand and hand, and companies with such cultures see higher levels of productivity, customer satisfaction, and profitability. As noted in one such study, utilities that manage the right cultural factors proactively can expect to achieve a return on investment (profitability) three to four times higher than those who do not.”