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  • Writer's pictureJoe Mlynek, CSP, OHST


Updated: Mar 28

How do you build a safety culture in your company? You may be curious. You may be ready. You can do a google search and find more choices than a Starbucks menu board. Like your order of daily roast, it can be confusing for sure, not to mention expensive! I’d like to share several strategies on building trust, sparking conversations, and driving action that will help build a collaborative safety culture.

Gaining trust begins day one. We must gain the trust of managers and the team. Most managers will be nervous when you start having conversations with their people. They fear you will find out that they aren’t perfect. I make sure that they understand that while we may have different views; we are all after the same goal – to send our team home safely.

Gaining the trust of the team takes time. I have discovered several strategies that have worked well. First, always have their back. Make the internal decision to support them even if they mess up. Next, get dirty. Pick up a shovel or broom when you see an opportunity. Some of the best cred I ever received came from crawling into a trench with 4 maintenance employees. I grabbed a shovel and joined in. Hours later, we repaired the pipe, and I gained the respect of the whole team. Respect lays the groundwork for trust. Finally, make sure to recognize the team. People rarely trust someone that isn’t wearing the same color jersey. Developing trust is hard, but once achieved, it will build more accountability and a stronger safety culture.

I have also found that sparking conversations with employees creates the right environment for building a better safety culture. I created the acronym S.P.A.R.K. to remind me to always be purposeful with my conversations. S.P.A.R.K. stands for Sharing Purpose, Awareness and Relevant Knowledge. I have found that as leaders, sometimes we get so busy explaining the “what we do” that we forget to explain the “why”. When we share the purpose behind something, or we describe the hazards we are trying to avoid; employees are more likely to take ownership in the process. We want them to share what they think, what they know, and what bothers them. Ask questions like, “How can we do this better?” “Why is this important?” or my favorite that I have borrowed from Joe Mlynek, “What scares you or causes concern for your safety or the safety of your coworkers?” Once they start talking, don’t stifle it. If they don’t talk, don’t fear the silence. Let it sink in and let them think about it. Sometimes, all I get is a “I guess nothing.” Sometimes I get pure gold.

Lastly, drive action from what you learn during employee conversations and interactions. If you find the team doesn’t understand the purpose behind something, discuss or retrain them on the “why”. Your training method may also need to evolve to include adding more hands-on focus. If they mention items that need to be fixed, fix them! The worst thing we can do is take their conversations and their trust and do nothing with it.

Spark conversation, build trust, and drive action. This is how a safety culture is born. So, get your Triple Mocha, get walking and get SPARKing!

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This blog was written by Dean Alling, Director of Safety and Special Projects at Attebury Grain, LLC -- a Safety Made Simple partner.


Joe Mlynek is a partner and subject matter expert at Safety Made Simple, LLC. He has over 20 years of experience in safety at the corporate level and as a consultant. He is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Occupational Safety and Health Technician (OHST). Joe can be reached at

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