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Introduction to safety culture

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.

3 steps to developing a successful safety culture

How does an amusing change to pedestrian crossing signals relate to a safety culture?

Well, what was a very clever city focussed attention grabber that was presumably developed to celebrate had the added benefit of driving public safety. And this is a wonderful example of how small, 'soft' things that can be done within organisations can positively influence or 'nudge' the development of an internal safety culture

Here are three 'soft' actions that every organisation can implement that will help move that organisation toward developing a positive safety culture and as a result, improve the chance of everyone in the organisation going home safely every day.

1. Do the unexpected
2. 'Anoint' a Safety Champion
3. Reward the behavior you want to see

Traditional values in developing a safety culture

Reaching the same outcome can be achieved in a number of different ways and sometimes the old fashioned ways can be the best. This is as true for health and safety as it is in many other areas.

1. Keep it real
2. Keep it simple
3. Keep it consistent

In short, be consistent, embed habits into your safety culture and before you know it you will have a healthy, safe workplace.

A strong safety culture - getting started is just the beginning

While organisations all have the best intentions in the area of health and safety, looking to embed a really strong safety culture long term, ensuring that the organisation moves beyond intention to action and that the action carries on into the future, is one of the great challenges.

So what are some of the ways you can use to embed a long term positive change to an organisation's safety culture.

From researching a range of different training providers, the following standards seem to be generally accepted as key steps to embedding a positive health and safety culture and making sure it 'sticks' long term.

1. Set your health and safety goals and a plan to meet them
2. Communicate your goals organisation clearly, and appropriately
3. Walk the talk
4. Ensure health and safety is high on the list of company priorities
5. Keep an open door
6. Collect all health and safety incident details, big or small.
7. Keep your health and safety training up to date and followed up

8 investments to bring a safety culture to life

Now while it is easy to criticise the smashed avocado approach that many younger folk have adopted as not taking life seriously enough, recent readings about mindfulness suggest that time and money spent at places like cafes are appropriate investments. Enhancing a moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens as one is able to achieve when surrounded by old books and a great glass of lemonade is one way of helping you to have a clear mind as you reenter your office to confront the next day's challenges. And if that challenge is to do with Health and Safety and you are able to take on that challenge with an open mind and a fresh perspective then the investment in a 10 minute break in your favourite cafe is money well spent.

Let's examine eight other areas you can invest in to get the most out of your health and safety budget.

Fire safety in the workplace

Of the many potential health and safety hazards to consider perhaps the most terrifying to contemplate are fire related. In particular, for office workers without heavy machinery to manage, forklifts to dodge, heights to scale or holes to fall into it's easy for complacency to set in and the very real danger that fire can present can be ignored. Despite this fires are the most common cause of damage and death in any workplace.

Whether you're a business owner, landlord or employee it is in your best interest to ensure that your workplace is safe from fire related hazards. When developing an overall safety culture fire safety should be high on everyone's awareness. Matt Jones Director of Advanced Safety believes that there are four stages of fire hazard management to consider fire: preparation, prevention, management, aftermath. Let's look at each in detail….

A light look at typical H&S training in the workplace


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