03 Sep 2021
Creating a high-performing safety culture

Creating a high-performing safety culture

  • A high-performing safety culture is one in which people consciously choose safety
  • Safety culture is influenced by systems, the environment, organisational design and people
  • It starts with diagnosing your safety culture, aligning leadership to ensure readiness for change and then implementing a solution which is owned internally.

Safety is becoming an increasing priority for many organisations and there are a number of compelling reasons to prioritise safety in the workplace.

“Having a high-performing safety culture in a business drives tangible and intangible benefits,” says Robert Wentzel, CEO of Jonah Group, a business that specialises in leadership and safety training.

“It can lead to people having to take less time off work, resulting in your insurance premiums potentially decreasing.

“More interestingly, but less tangibly, relationships can improve – there is less conflict, morale goes up, and productivity goes up, too. There can be an increased willingness for people to stop and ask questions if unsure, share ideas and take initiative to improve the workplace.”

“When you demonstrate care for people, people will demonstrate care for your business. When you manage safety and recognise that people and care is the foundation of success, people will shift how they relate and operate in your business. You’ll see increased engagement and a greater willingness of people being more forthcoming,” Wentzel added.

What is a high-performing safety culture?

Essentially, a high-performing safety culture is one in which people choose safety because they ‘want to’ instead of because they ‘have to’. Their motivation is based on a personal value for safety, learning and growth rather than fear, the need to comply or to simply meet minimum requirements.

To establish that culture, it’s important that those safety values are lived and breathed throughout the organisation.

“It’s easy to create a policy that states ‘we are committed to safety’, but how much truth is really behind those words on paper? Are they just words designed to look good on a website and meet minimum tender or standard requirements, or do people’s daily actions and decisions actually reflect your values?” Wentzel asks.

“People are attuned to inauthenticity. If a business doesn’t live and breathe what they say, it could be doing more harm than good to the business’ culture,” Wentzel added.

Creating a high performing culture requires people to feel safe to speak up and how an organisation responds to this can either enable a strong safety culture or disable it.

In addition, the workplace has to be a psychologically safe environment where people can openly express concerns and challenges, and in practice be a just culture, rather than a blame or no-blame culture.

“It’s all about treating people fairly, and holding them to account,” says Wentzel.

“Regardless of the systems and processes you have in place, there’s also a component of human behaviour, and that behaviour can be unintentional (where people make honest mistakes) or intentional (where people make a choice not to take safety seriously and ignore a procedure or take some shortcuts).”

To establish an understanding of the importance of safety and the company’s dedication to it, quality communication is key.

“Authentic communication is really important,” says Wentzel. “It’s not just about saying the right things and ticking some boxes to pass an audit. If you’re authentic and even a bit vulnerable in your leadership, it contributes to morale in the company and productivity.”

QBE’s General Manager of People Risk, Rob Kosova adds “The pandemic has made people stop and reflect on their purpose in life, which extends to their work purpose and the purpose of the organisation they work for. If they don’t feel truly valued, they will be less productive and more at risk of leaving. We have to focus on the positive side of this equation: values alignment and treating people as we all should be treated with careers, families and perspectives.

“By thinking about safety from this perspective, it extends to your customers, if people feel safe and valued, with values alignment, then customers will too.”

What it takes to create a great safety culture

Your people are a key component in establishing a high-performance safety culture – along with systems and processes, and the physical environment in which you’re working. And all three must be working equally well.

Two warehouse workers talking together over a tablet while standing inside of a large warehouseWhen it comes to systems, processes, procedures and training, they need to be user-friendly, and checks should be made to ensure understanding. The physical environment must be well-maintained, with good quality tools and equipment that’s in good working order.

While the majority of those things are controllable, the third – how people behave – isn’t. So, how do you get people motivated to follow the procedures?

Understanding human behaviour, how we perceive and respond to risk and error is key. This is where The Jonah Group’s Limbic Safety™ Program has helped companies achieve a high performing safety culture. It applies psychology and neuroscience to achieve a sustainable shift in culture, behaviour and performance.

“The way people generally relate to safety is that it’s boring. We’ve heard it all before – more procedures and more restrictions,” Wentzel says.

“We need to get back to what safety really is about, and that’s about demonstrating care for people, ensuring their physical and mental safety so they can go home and live lives they love. People have lost that connection with safety – they see it as more paperwork and frustration, when you demonstrate care for people, in return they will care about your business.”

Kosova agrees, “Safety is a business enabler, it introduces the principles of risk management and care simultaneously into an organisation, but it has to be done authentically because we know leaders are judged more on their actions than their words.”

Implementing a high-performing safety culture

How do you begin to turn your business into one with a high-performing safety culture? It begins with diagnosing your current safety culture, understanding the pain points, the success strategies and the unconscious blueprint that drives behaviour.

“Following the diagnosis, we will provide the results and feedback to the leadership team to align the readiness and drivers for change and their role in activating this change,” says Wentzel.

Change has to be led from the top down, so working with the senior leaders and executive team is important in understanding the process of change and the real issues.

“The impact of a leader’s influence cannot be underestimated, in fact 70 per cent of people’s behaviour at work is directly influenced by their leader. For this reason, evaluating the effectiveness of a leader is important,” he says.

A 180-degree feedback process creates a safety leadership scorecard, so leaders can get direct feedback from their reports on a number of safety leadership behaviours. It’s a powerful process which often initiates a leader’s willingness to re-think their impact and willingness to change.

However, the most important thing that’s needed to implement a successful change is for a company to be prepared to take the process seriously.

“Of course, a business needs to be run,” says Wentzel. “But there needs to be total commitment to this from the executive team, including the CEO. You can invest and talk to leaders about anything you want, but if they get different messages from the top, it’s not going to work.”

Reviewing performance

Improvement in safety culture is measured by conducting a safety culture diagnosis every 18-24 months.

The aim is to build a self-sustaining safety culture that runs naturally in the business.

And at the heart is a simple sentiment, says Wentzel: “We need to change the perception of safety from ‘I have to’ to ‘I want to’.”

To learn more about establishing a high-performing workplace culture, contact The Jonah Group or explore our other useful resources, including Q Risk Insights and Q Academy, our online learning portal for insurance brokers.


Robert Wentzel, CEO of Jonah GroupAbout Robert Wentzel

Robert founded The Jonah Group in 2003 underpinned by a belief that every human life is important, and everyone deserves access to live an extraordinary life. Rob’s approach is practical and nurturing. He started his career as a Mechanical Engineer in Holland. He is passionate about his family, AFL, diving and cheese. He looks forward to one day owning his own goat and making his own cheese whilst drinking a full-bodied Rioja.




The advice in this article is general in nature and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. You must decide whether or not it is appropriate, in light of your own circumstances, to act on this advice.