You can have the best safety programs and processes in your company, but if the corporate culture doesn't include safety, then all your efforts are wasted.

Speaking at a National Transportation Safety Board symposium on Corporate Culture and Transportation Safety in April, presenters said that while there has been increased emphasis on designing and implementing safety programs, many companies lack the cultural beliefs to make them last.

Unless a company has an imbedded safety culture, all the safety programs and initiatives will diminish when the company changes management, the economy dips, or any number of external and internal changes take place.

"Culture can achieve safety despite who the CEO is or who the manager is," noted Jim Reason, professor of psychology at the University of Manchester, U.K. Reason pointed out that while it's difficult for companies to change their values and beliefs, once they're in place they can weather many storms.

Safety cultures share common elements. They are reporting cultures in which people tell each other what is going on -- whether the news is positive or negative. "But people won't tell you things unless they trust you," said Reason. "So you must have a fair and just culture as well."

Reason noted that safety cultures never become complacent because the process of safety is ongoing.

Carroll W. Suggs, chairman, president, and CEO of Petroleum Helicopters Inc. (PHI), a large commercial helicopter fleet, said that her company embarked on building a safety culture with a goal towards zero accidents. In addition to human life, accidents are costly in terms of equipment and company image.

Because of the nature of its core business -- ferrying oil workers to offshore drilling platforms -- safety was paramount if PHI was to prosper. Customers will not use us if we are not the safest. It's that simple."

"Safety must be treated as a strategic initiative," added Suggs. "Company-wide team effort is required in which all employees understand their respective roles and responsibilities."