Safety Culture Perception Surveys: The Complete Guide

On the surface, a safety culture perception survey is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a survey that shows you how your employees perceive the safety culture of the company. Essentially, it’s about finding out how your people really feel about their own safety and how the business handles safety. Like successful safety incentive programs, well-designed perception surveys can eventually lead to improving the safety culture at your workplace

What Are Perceptions?

Perceptions are your workers’ opinions, feelings and awareness about a topic. In relation to workplace safety, perceptions can highlight a range of aspects.

  • Awareness of hazards, risks, and safety processes in place
  • Thoughts and feelings about the processes in place and the effectiveness of the company’s safety strategy.
  • Key areas where things are working well and can be built upon
  • Key issues and areas where improvements are needed

Problems with Perceptions

Lack of context: Often, perceptions within a company will only be compared to those of other individuals in the same environment. This means that there is no real frame of reference. For example, 50% of the workforce might say that they think the safety strategy in place is effective. But there’s no way to tell who those 50% are and if they are qualified to assess the safety strategy. 

Perception volatility: Perceptions and opinions can change in an instant. Events, conversations with other workers and new knowledge can influence the individual’s answers.

Perception fatigue: Being asked how you’re feeling is nice. Being asked every 5 minutes is annoying. Surveys can quickly become repetitive and staff may become complacent when completing them. This may result in inaccurate data, making it impossible to see if the improvements are useful. 

Understanding: Whether it’s jargon, complex language, or poorly worded questions. Each participant must understand all questions completely. Otherwise, the answers to your perception survey won’t  reflect the individual’s true opinion.

Benefits of Safety Perception Surveys

Cultivating Trust: To create a culture of trust within your organization, you have to make sure every individual’s voice is being heard.  This is partly about maintaining open communication and ensuring staff at all levels feel comfortable sharing their opinions. And partly about identifying problems and solving them more efficiently.

Increased Accuracy: Managerial overviews and expert assessments have an important place in your safety strategy. But you need to take the opinions and experience of those at every level of the organization to draw a clear and accurate picture of every aspect of the company’s safety.

Planning: Having a clearer idea of what is happening at all levels means that more specific plans and processes can be put into place. The detailed feedback makes it easier to create solutions that address every aspect of the environment.  

Cost-effectiveness: Identifying issues and reassessing the overall safety position regularly means you can eliminate issues before they cause damage or injury – this saves the company money. In addition, safety perception surveys are one of the most cost-effective ways of receiving continuous feedback from employees. 

Validated vs. Non-Validated Surveys

There are a number of differences between validated and non-validated safety perception surveys.In short, validated surveys are optimized to produce reliable data. Non-validated surveys are often thought to be validated at face-value. There are three key areas where the types of survey differ:

ValidatedNon-validated
Design (creating the survey)Questions designed to get a true picture of the individual’s responses (often asked from multiple angles).Designed with the optimal responses in mind, but with room for differing opinions. Accessible for all staff levels and specialisms.Focusing on the wrong thing – often employee behavior, rather than the value of the overall strategy. Looks at what is happening ‘now’ rather than identifying ongoing patterns of behavior.Doesn’t account for the business’ future plans.
Administration (completing the survey)All staff take the survey and understand what is being asked. They feel comfortable answering honestly.Respondents can feel intimidated knowing who will read their responses. They may tailor their opinions to meet expectations rather than being honest.Some employees are more engaged than others, resulting in varying levels of details and accuracy.
Analysis (using the results)Reliable data can be used to make decisions which can:
Improve safety processes.Correct misunderstandings Better react to the needs of staff.Give a better overall definition of each person’s role in the safety program.Assist in meeting company goals.
Survey results have no real meaning as there are several factors that may have influenced them.Many companies use the results to take averages, without digging deeper into the responses to find more detailed issues. Actions taken using these results may just consolidate existing issues that have not been brought up, therefore not improving safety and wasting time, money, and resources on a purely performative project. 

Creating and validating surveys can be resource-intensive. An alternative is to purchase pre-designed surveys which have already been validated.  

Designing a Safety Perception Survey

It’s important that the necessary time is dedicated to crafting a safety perception survey. It’s true that what the survey and results achieve, reflects the effort and care put into the preparation. 

Safety perception surveys usually take the form of a series of statements with a Likert-type scale. Most often it’s 1-5, but it could also be in the form of smiley face emoticons or icons, or  anchors such as  ‘strongly agree’ and ‘strongly disagree’. There may also be sections for free text where respondents can write their thoughts.

How to create survey statements

There are a few rules of thumb to consider when creating survey statements:

  • Wording is the key to an effective survey with actionable results. Broad adjectives such as ‘good’ or ‘fair’ are subjective and hold different meanings for different people. Extremes, such as ‘always’ and ‘never’ can lead respondents to incorrectly report the frequency of an event if no other options are available.
  • Focused, clear statements. The statement “I feel comfortable recording near misses and think they are good for the company.” is asking the respondent to score two separate emotions with just one answer. This can diminish the value of the result.
  • Clarification and understanding are vital. Make sure that the terminology is easy to understand. If you have doubts, provide a clarification note or try to word the statement in a more accessible way. 

Key Topics for Employee Safety Surveys

In some states, these are essential topics that must be covered in a safety survey. A more detailed breakdown can be seen on EHS Daily Advisor.

  • Management commitment and involvement:  Establishing that procedures are in place and that upper management is involved, committed, and supportive of them.
  • Involvement of employees: Ensuring employees are involved at all levels and have access to all the information and resources needed.
  • Training: Evaluating the training in place and its effectiveness.
  • Prevention and Control of hazards: This covers preparation for emergencies, maintenance, and readiness. Both for pre-emptive and reactive procedures and equipment, and adherence to policy.
  • Effective analysis: An overview of the implementation of processes and policies at ground level. Looks at how deep the company probes information and reports to find hidden causes and issues. This also looks at the regular evaluation and review of procedures and policies. 

Safety Culture Perception Survey FAQs

  1. What type of questions should you avoid in a survey?
  • Negative wording where positive answers are expected
  • Leading questions, where the respondent feels forced to answer in a particular way
  • Questions that do not produce a meaningful and measurable response
  • Questions that use jargon or complex wording without explanation or clarification
  1. What is a good number of respondents for a safety perception survey?

The appropriate sample size for safety perception surveys can vary by industry, company size, and number of employees. 

According to Cohen, 1992, a target of 100 or 150 responses should be enough for most surveys. This should provide enough data to make your results statistically significant. 

For smaller companies with fewer employees, it’s best to survey all employees.

The Dupont(™) Safety Perception Survey

The DupontTM Safety Perception Survey is a system that has been developed by DuPont Sustainable Solutions. It allows companies to survey employees and contractors and upload their responses onto a system which compares them with over two million responses for a range of industries and countries. This information is used to plot results on the DupontTM Bradley CurveTM, comparing results with others in the same industry and identifying trends, issues and opportunities. 

The DupontTM Bradley CurveTM uses a scale of safety culture maturity, plotting injury rates against four key stages:

The Reactive Stage: In this stage, individuals believe accidents are inevitable and do not take personal responsibility for the prevention of them.

The Dependent Stage: Safety is seen as synonymous with rule-following. Accident rates begin to decrease as colleagues stick to instructions.

The Independent Stage: Colleagues believe that their actions can make a difference, they take responsibility and use initiative to prevent incidents.

The Interdependent Stage: Teams and colleagues at all levels take responsibility and ownership, working together toward the goal of zero injuries. 

In this scale, higher injury rates are associated with the Reactive Stage, while the Interdependent Stage sees significantly lower incident rates. 

Running the Survey

Once the question, or statements, have been designed and verified, it’s a good idea to test the survey with a small selection of colleagues. This will help to iron out any last-minute misunderstandings, ensure that the format of the survey is accessible and identify any issues before rolling it out at large. 

To ensure the best reception of a safety survey, it’s an idea to communicate with staff before sending it. Let individuals know why they are being asked to complete a survey. Explain how their answers will be used and when they will see the results. Give colleagues plenty of opportunities to ask questions before the survey is administered. 

Surveys can be administered in many ways, including online, by email, over the phone, or in person. Each company may choose a different method for a variety of reasons. What’s important is that respondents are able to complete the survey comfortably, responses are treated confidentially, and data can be collected.

Of course, it is best to speak to a professional if you’re unsure about how to administer your survey.  

Analyzing the Results and Preparing the Report

What you do with the results will depend on what you’re trying to find out. It’s worth keeping an open mind throughout. Some responses may not meet the estimated answers. But they could lead to the identification and solution of underlying issues that had not previously been noticed. 

While developing the survey, key areas are usually identified and most of the responses can be analyzed against them. This will be especially effective if your survey follows the key principles of honesty, openness, and commitment.

The report should be accessible and understandable at all levels. Ccolleagues should be able to see the value created by the survey and feel that it was worth their time and honesty to complete it. This fairs well for future surveys and helps keep employees engaged in continuous safety improvement. 

Conclusion

Safety culture perception surveys are a useful tool to get a real picture of how important safety is to the individuals responsible for upholding it throughout the organization. Whether you choose to have a professional create it for you, or do it yourself, there are numerous benefits. You stay in touch with your employees, ask their opinions, and use that information to make meaningful changes and improvements to the working environment. 

References & Further Reading