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LBNL Safety Culture Takes to the Road

How does an organization move the concept of safety culture from something hypothetical to an integral part of an organization’s fabric? That’s what the 15 members of the City of Berkeley’s Safety Committee wanted to know after hearing a presentation about how Berkeley Lab approached the subject.

Gathered around a conference table during a Jan. 9 meeting, the group took pride in its own strong safety record, but acknowledged there was definitely room to improve. “How did you get your culture to take root?” a city employee asked. The answer from Berkeley Lab’s Safety Culture Work Group Chair Mike Ruggieri was simple: Management set the tone and showed where it stands on the issue. Once employees realize management takes safety seriously, they made it a priority themselves.

This wasn’t the first time the City and Lab came together to discuss safety culture. Berkeley City Councilmembers Linda Maio and Gordon Wozniak, who had both worked at the Lab earlier in their careers, along with City of Berkeley Human Resources manager Margarita Zamora, visited the Lab in late 2012 for a tour and discussion. Maio and Wozniak knew from previous experience that safety culture was imbedded into all activities at the Lab. They came to see how their neighbors got there.

During that initial meeting the three asked Ruggieri if he would make a presentation to the municipality’s safety committee, comprised of department heads, union liaisons, and other management of the city’s 1,300 employees.

At that committee meeting Ruggieri explained that compliance enforcement can be used to improve safety performance, but at some point a plateau is reached.   To improve further, an organization needs to develop and sustain a mature safety culture that includes safety awareness in everyday business practices.  He pointed to the Lab’s Integrated Safety Management (ISM) as a successful part of the culture, where safety is incorporated into projects from the initial planning stages forward.

The Lab’s Safety Spot Award program, which recognizes employee exhibiting safe behavior with a certificate and cash award, was another example of a successful way to sustain the culture. The Berkeley committee especially liked how any Lab employee could nominate another for an award. The new Safety is Elemental pins, which are given to Spot winners, also resonated with the group.

The sharing of ideas energized both parties, with City of Berkeley employees brainstorming how they could improve their strong safety culture and the Lab delegation receiving validation that it is continuing to work toward a first-in-class culture.