Creating a culture of safety is crucial for any construction team, but what does it really mean to have a “safety culture”? It’s a question that goes beyond PPE and bare minimum safety standards – it strikes at the heart of how we create an environment where every individual feels valued, empowered, and committed to the well-being of themselves and their colleagues.

In this conversation, we hear from HeatSpring Solar Construction Safety instructor Tripper Gawan as he emphasizes that a true safety culture is about more than just reading manuals and following rules – it’s about creating an environment where employees feel empowered to take ownership of their own experience. A vibrant, energetic safety culture is about creating a sense of movement, engagement, and shared purpose.

Ultimately, culture is everything in a business. By focusing on building a strong, positive safety culture, construction leaders can not only keep their teams safe, but also create the conditions for broader success, innovation, and growth.

Brit: What is a culture of safety? And why is that important?

Tripper: Yeah. High vibes, man. High vibes. Like I don’t know about you.  I personally want to be in an environment mixed with excited molecules that are moving. Like that’s why water boils, right? Because the molecules get all excited and they’re moving.  That to me is culture. I want a culture of movement, not of stagnancy.

If I go into a company and they’re like, “Hey, read the safety manual, be safe. There’s your safety shit. Wear that, and don’t kill anybody or  yourself.” 

Right? That hasn’t got a lot of energy. That feels like ice. I want the boil, like show me the kinetic energy here. 

So why is culture of safety so important?

Well, culture is the impetus. It’s the focus of everything around it.  My environment, that I live in with my wife and my kids, the culture that we create in our house is one of inclusion. When people come to our house, they feel welcome. They feel warm. They feel like they can go to the refrigerator and grab a drink.

I want that same type of thing with safety. I want the employees to be comfortable and willing to take ownership of their own experience. I don’t want them sitting around just going like, “dang, I’m really thirsty. I just really wish I was safe. Boy, if someone would only help me be safe.” 

No, you help you be safe!

And if the culture doesn’t live in your company, help create the culture. I tie this back to a lot of our leaders, this principle of the fish and the shark at the poker table. If you’re at a poker table and you don’t know who the fish is, you’re the fish. You’re the person who doesn’t know what you’re doing there.  You probably shouldn’t be there. If you’re at a poker table and you can’t recognize the shark, it might be you. 

Leadership and safety and culture and accountability are the same thing. If you’re looking around at your company, you don’t see somebody that’s the shark of safety, that’s holding the culture flame high, it’s probably you. You should probably step up and do something at your company to initiate and instigate these things. 

Why is it so important? Again, because it ties everybody together. It creates the vibe of the office, of the company. For me, that is the environment. The environment is what breeds the organism, right?

If I grow up in a forest, I’m going to be a forest creature. If I grow up in the desert, I’m going to be a desert creature. If I grow up in a safety-oriented environment, safety culture is going to be a part of my environment.  It’s going to be a part of my culture or part of who I am and build my construct.

Culture is the overall vibe. It keeps people organized around the primary purpose. The primary purpose is generally for most companies to do good business and make money.  Otherwise, they can’t continue to pay their employees and create that environment where people can elevate and promote and take on more responsibility and grow their careers.

So it’s so important. Culture is so important because it’s literally everything of your business. It’s what creates the environment that develops your people.