Let's Talk About Safety Culture (Through Pop Culture)

 Your company's safety culture impacts nearly everything, from your employees' working relationships to your accident rate.  In fact, OSHA reports " that developing strong safety cultures have the single greatest impact on accident reduction of any process.

 Positive safety cultures take a long time to nurture and develop, but you can take a step in the right direction by studying examples of safety cultures and analyzing the ways in which they are successful (or unsuccessful, as the case may be).  

These television shows are meant to entertain, but the clips below also offer a springboard for discussion about what makes a positive safety culture.

  1. "Safety Training" – The Office

Its safety training day at Dunder Mifflin, and the office is invited to join the warehouse crew to learn about dangerous machinery, including the baler and the forklift.  Michael makes light of the warehouse crew’s safety training and poses a real threat to the crew’s safety.  A competition grows between the warehouse crew and the office workers, and later, Michael feels slighted when his office safety isn’t perceived as ‘manly’ or ‘dangerous.’

This situation makes for a funny episode, but in real-life, this situation would certainly be described as a negative safety culture.  No company can hope to build a positive safety culture when upper management takes safety lightly.  It's not that the boss is making jokes (after all, safety doesn't have to be boring, and a bit of humor can go a long way towards reinforcing memorization).  

The real issue is that the boss undermines the importance of safety and downplays the danger of the warehouse equipment.    Furthermore, a positive safety culture is built by workers who are able to support and protect one another. 

The workers in this episode turn safety into a competition by asserting that one workplace is more dangerous than the other (as if this is something to aspire to!).  In a real-life situation, a worker who feels discouraged from wearing PPE or fall protection because he or she isn’t 'tough' enough to go without could be at risk for severe injury or death.  Safety day at Dunder Mifflin is a prime example of how attitudes about safety between workers and upper management can degrade a safety culture.

  1. "Archie & the Miracle" – All in the Family 

Archie is nearly killed at work at a loading dock when a crate of machine parts falls off a crane and just misses him. He escapes uninjured but his lunchbox is smashed flat.  His wife Edith asks if he was wearing a 'safety hat' but Archie replies that the crate weighed one ton - if he hadn't have moved, his “feet would have been wearing his safety hat.” 

Close calls are a call to action – but what action?  Although Archie felt motivated to go to church, there are arguably more pressing actions to take after a near-fatal accident.  

Big questions need to be answered: 

  • Why didn't the crew have their coffee break in a safer location? 
  • Who was operating the crane, and why didn't he or she see the men sitting there?  
  • What could be done to prevent an accident like this from happening in the future?  

After such a close call, it makes sense that a worker might feel a sense of gratitude (and relief). 

 He or she might be inspired to spend more time with family, seek spiritual guidance, or (hopefully) spend more time brushing up on safety procedures.  No doubt it's a good thing to count your blessings.  But to really learn from a close call, a company with a positive safety culture will examine the near-miss and take concrete action to prevent future incidents.

  1. Office Space 

Peter hates his boss.  He tries to quietly sneak out of the office after work on Friday to avoid running into his boss, but luck isn't on his side.  Before he's able to escape, his boss asks him to work on the weekend and "play catch up," much to Peter's chagrin.

This clip isn't explicitly about workplace safety -- but it still stands as an example of a poor working relationship between workers and upper management, a factor which can definitely stymie the growth of a positive safety culture. 

It’s bad enough when you can’t talk to your boss candidly in an office, but on a dangerous job site, the inability to communicate can have deadly consequences. Workers need to be able to point out unsafe behavior or situations without the threat of negative consequences, including job loss, penalties, or social repercussions.  It might mean that a worker reminds a supervisor to wear his or her safety goggles, and that’s okay.  

A positive safety culture means that people are looking out for each other’s safety, regardless of rank.  It's a universal truth that workers and upper management might not always be the best of friends, but in the interest of workplace safety, employees of all levels need to be able to communicate respectfully and professionally.

Videos are a fun way to start the discussion about important safety topics during your safety meetings or training.  If you have any other examples of safety culture (positive or negative) depicted in pop culture -- whether in film, television, or music -- please share by commenting below.

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