Building a Culture of Safety: Accountability from the Ground Up

NGFA Safety Webinar – Accountability

Accountability is a cornerstone of workplace safety and fosters a culture where safety protocols are not just followed but integrated into the daily operations of an organization.

Joe Mlynek, CSP, OHST, founder of Progressive Safety Services, LLC and co-owner of Safety Made Simple shares his research and work around employee engagement, responsibility and how accountability for personal safety can institute a culture of workplace safety. The seasoned agricultural safety professional takes a deep dive into defining safe behaviors, performance evaluations and the progressive discipline that can implement change in a recent National Grain and Feed Association webinar.

The Evolution of Safety Accountability

Mlynek opened the webinar by reflecting on the evolution of safety accountability over the years.

“Ten years ago, we struggled to get people to attend a session like this,” he notes, highlighting the initial challenges in drawing attention to progressive safety topics such as accountability. However, he observes a significant shift in recent years, “We’ve already doubled our participation level today, versus ten years ago,” indicating a growing industry-wide recognition of the importance of best practices over mere compliance.

Defining Accountability in Safety

The definition of accountability isn’t blurry for Mlynek and he shares that it shouldn’t be for companies working to implement a stronger workplace safety culture, either. We all play a part – we’re all responsible for helping to ensure a safe workplace.

“Accountability is being responsible to someone or for some actions.” He emphasizes that accountability in the workplace transcends hierarchical boundaries, involving everyone from senior managers to frontline employees.

“When we look at who’s accountable for safety, the answer is everyone,” he asserts, underlining the collective responsibility for maintaining a safe working environment.

Strategies to Foster Accountability

One of the key strategies Mlynek discusses is the establishment of clear expectations and the communication of these standards to all employees.

“Years ago when I worked for a large agribusiness company, they had an employee bill of rights as part of their mission statement,” he recalls, pointing out the importance of employees knowing what is expected of them and being held to those standards.

He also stresses the shift from compliance to commitment, where employees are encouraged to take ownership of safety issues and exceed expectations.

“With accountability, that’s the shift that we want to make,” Mlynek explains.

The Role of Feedback in Accountability

Mlynek highlights the critical role of feedback in promoting accountability. He describes two types of feedback:

Positive Feedback — a reinforcement of good practices

Guidance Feedback — a crucial management tool when corrective actions are needed.

The CAR Model: A Framework for Delivering Feedback

One of the key highlights from Mlynek’s approach is the CAR model, which stands for Context, Action, Result. This model provides a structured framework for delivering feedback that is both constructive and empowering. By using this model, managers can communicate feedback in a way that is clear and impactful, making it easier for employees to understand their actions’ implications and the expected outcomes.

For instance, if an employee is observed using safety equipment correctly, a manager might say, “I noticed you were using your safety glasses and face shield while operating the grinder. This is great because it significantly reduces the risk of eye injuries, which are common with such equipment. Thank you for following safety protocols.”

This example of positive feedback not only acknowledges the correct action but also reinforces the safe behavior by linking it to a positive result.

Implementing Progressive Discipline

Discussing the implementation of progressive discipline, Mlynek clarifies that the goal is not to punish but to alter behavior to prevent safety incidents.

“The goal is not to punish the person, it’s really to change or alter their behavior,” he states. This approach involves a step-by-step escalation process, ensuring that employees have opportunities to correct their actions before more severe steps are taken.

Conclusion: The Impact of Accountability on Safety Culture

In conclusion, Mlynek’s insights shed light on the transformative power of accountability in enhancing workplace safety. By establishing clear expectations, fostering commitment over compliance, effectively using feedback, and implementing progressive discipline, organizations can create a safety culture where accountability is deeply embedded.

“Accountability is a positive thing… as leaders in the safety arena, we need to understand that our teams want to succeed and we need to help them do so,” he shares.

His expertise and practical advice offer valuable guidance for organizations aiming to strengthen their safety protocols through the powerful tool of accountability.