Health and Safety has increasingly become a hot topic in countries across the globe as governments and business alike look grapple with the increased costs and loss of productivity that comes as the result of Health and Safety incidents nevermind the personal cost to those involved and wider mental health and stress implications. While it’s all well and good increasing compliance through checklists, observation, reporting and penalising ultimately the goal has got to be about building up a robust safety culture with organisations.
Safety Culture is about people, specifically your people and team, and how they work together. There are two main things that are common to all definitions.
1. It is about people’s values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. In an organisation with a good safety culture, these are geared towards safety which is considered a priority.
2. It is about the spread of these values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. Organisations with a good safety culture have these spread throughout—from top management to the shop floor and in everything everyone does in the organisation.
“the core values, beliefs and behaviours resulting from a collective commitment by leaders and individuals throughout an organisation that appropriately prioritise safety against other organisational goals to allow business objectives to be undertaken without undue risk”.
Why is it important?
A good safety culture helps an organisation maintain safe operations. By having everyone, from operators to managers, take safety seriously, remaining watchful and avoiding compromises, means that operations are conducted in as safe a manner as reasonable. This can significantly reduce the risks of accidents occurring.
By contrast, a poor safety culture means not everyone takes safety seriously, are not watchful, are complacent, and compromise too readily. This may mean that there are workers or operations that are at risk of having a higher number of incidents and accidents. In organisations with a poor safety culture, incidents, especially near misses, are not reported or acted upon adequately and instructions are not properly followed.
This is neither efficient nor effective in the long run. For example, if incidents are not reported and lessons learnt, they will continue to occur. This may result in an undue risk to workers and the public. Safety culture is therefore an important aspect to ensure safety is integrated into an organisation’s operations.
Implementing and / or Improving Safety Culture
There are several important lessons that should be noted when trying to improve an organisation’s safety culture. Firstly, many organisations try initially to assess their current safety culture (also referred to as safety climate). This is done through: surveys and questionnaires; selective interviews of staff; and watching staff generally. These methods give decision-makers a good overview of the organisation’s safety culture. Another important lesson is that it can take time to improve an organisation’s safety culture because people’s attitudes and behaviours take time to change.
Lastly, making changes to safety culture usually starts with smaller changes at the local level. For example, having a good reporting system for incidents and events and ensuring these are acted upon in a just and fair manner goes a long way to improve the overall culture of the organisation. From these local changes larger wholesale changes to cultures emerge later on. Therefore, it is important to ensure that these building blocks of a safe culture are addressed first e.g. a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down approach. Remember building a safety culture is to everyone's benefit