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Developing a positive safety culture - What is your safety culture?

This is our first in a series of posts surrounding your organisation's safety culture. We're going to start with the definition of safety culture, followed swiftly by the benefits of having a positive safety cultur e. The discussion will move to the role of managers within as well as creating  a safety culture, how to develop a positive safety culture and finally the promotion of a positive safety culture in the workplace.

What actually is a safety culture?

There are hundreds of slightly differing definitions of a 'safety culture'. But which one is the truest reflection? HSG65 - Managing for health and safety defines a safety culture as the following:

" The product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies and patterns of behaviour that determine commitment to, and the style and proficiency of an organisation's health and safety management."

HSE LogoThere are many cultures within an organisation such as religious, racial and corporate. The safety culture is the way in which your organisation take ownership of their responsibilities to employees, customers and stakeholders. Depending on the way in which this is done determines either a positive or negative safety culture. 

So with this in mind, we've compiled a list of what counts towards both a positive and a negative safety culture.

What are the signs of a negative safety culture?

In this post we're going to look at the good, the bad and the ugly. To start with we've put together a short list of the factors which create a negative safety culture.

  • Violations of health and safety procedure seen as the norm

  • A blame culture

  • Failures of compliance with health and safety systems

  • Risks and consequences rated as managers wish they were, not as they are

  • Management decisions which put the interests of stakeholders such as customers above that of staff safety.

  • Health and safety training being seen as low priority

Most of the time when staff are breaking procedure it's small and innocuous things such as not putting out a wet floor sign when water is spilled in the rec room or not cleaning it up. Care must be taken to address small but continuous deviations from the procedures. Once these deviations are identified it is vital to create a just, no blame culture. We'll discuss the blame culture more in a later post.

It happens time and again and if it happens within your organisation, it isn't unique to you - that people carrying out risk assessments can be open to bias, viewing and recording risks as they would prefer them to be and not as they are. This is a harsh truth but it is one you might have to face. If this is the case then you must be able to address it, for example through re-building the way in which assessments are carried out.

Health and safety training should be seen as a priority because when employees believe that their safety isn't seen as a great concern by their management, this contributes to a negative safety culture and can have knock on affects within other areas of the business. Finally, management decisions that put the interests of stakeholders, customers and costs above the best interests of your staff will create both a negative safety culture and low morale.

Now - that's the bad and the ugly, but in order to move towards a positive safety culture there are difficult issues which must be addressed.

"£14.1 billion estimated cost of injuries and ill health from current working conditions (2014/15)" - HSE - 2015/16

Now let's talk about the positive.

Now that we've talked about the negative, let's get back to the glass half full outlook. The following make up (part of) that which we believe necessary to build a positive safety culture.

  • Visible leadership commitment from all levels of the organisation

  • Visible investment in health and safety, which can be seen by all stakeholders

  • Good knowledge and understanding of health and safety throughout the organisation

  • Clear definition of the culture desired and that which is required

  • Acceptance at all levels that it is a long term strategy

  • Managing competing priorities such as manufacturing and marketing

  • Existence of a good learning culture

  • Setting realistic and achievable targets and monitoring performance

  • Proactive not reactive

  • Taking ownership of health and safety.

  • A just, no blame culture

It is impossible to improve your safety culture overnight, or even in a week or a month. Your organisation needs to make a firm decision, which can be seen by stakeholders, including staff and customers, that this is going to be a long term strategy. Once all levels of management have made this commitment and decided to take ownership of your staff's health and safety, targets must be set which are realistic as well as measurable.


 At this point, a clear and concise statement should be presented, outlining the desired culture and the reasons behind it.  By doing so your staff will understand the changes and why they have been made - it is important to note that the reasons behind the changes should be positive and not in response to an accident or issue. By pointing out the positive reasons behind the new approach you reassure everyone that this is a proactive approach as opposed to reactive.


As well as a visible commitment, visible investment should be made in your staff's safety. One way this can be done is through additional training. In offering additional safety training we are crossing two items off the list as this will also provide the essential health and safety knowledge required by all personnel. The additional safety training counts towards your learning culture, helping to make it a positive one.

Builders at Work
Now let's discuss the managing of priorities - What comes first? Production or marketing? Sales or accounts?  Customer service or health and safety? It's easy for me to sit here and say that safety is as equally important as sales. However you know as well as I do that when the bills are waiting to be paid the best way to do that is to have an efficient production line which can be marketed well and sold by professionals. I've been there. But it only takes one trip, fall or cut without the proper health and safety procedures in place, and enforced, to make everything else mean nothing. But a positive safety culture, coupled with the proper equipment to protect your staff could make all the difference.

 
Finally, and one of the most important factors which helps to create a positive safety culture, is a fair and just  no blame culture. When the worst happens and an accident occurs it is often a reflex to find the person responsible and discipline them. Unfortunately this can only make things worse. If an accident does happen, we must look to the root of the cause and not the end result. I'm not saying that it's never anyone's fault, but instantly looking to discipline staff after an accident, encourages people to hide the truth. You need to let people know that when an investigation has to be carried out it is to improve on current processes and procedure. It is also, at the end of the day to prevent it happening again in the future. By encouraging a no blame culture, people are more likely to come forward and raise issues which could prevent the accident happening again.

 

 

 

 

 

"30.4 million working days lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury" - HSE 2015/16

To sum up...

To conclude this first, in a series of posts, encouraging a positive safety culture, it is important to remember that it is incredibly difficult to improve your safety culture directly. You should look to improve the varying factors which influence the culture. As we discussed earlier there are both positive and negative cultures, and you must take an honest look at what's going on within your organisation and to what end? By improving the safety culture you are encouraging people to come forward with issues which could be having a detrimental impact on your organisation. As an example, if there is a poor safety culture within your production chain and employees don't believe that their safety is a priority, there could be less care being placed in producing your product which will be seen by the end user.

So, just to recap, a negative safety culture can include:

  • Violations of health and safety procedure seen as the norm

  • A blame culture

  • Failures of compliance with health and safety systems

  • Risks and consequences rated as managers wish they were, not as they are

  • Management decisions which put the interests of stakeholders such as customers above that of staff safety

  • Health and safety training being seen as low priority

And a positive safety culture:

  • Visible leadership commitment from all levels of the organisation

  • Visible investment in health and safety, which can be seen by all stakeholders

  • Clear definition of the culture desired and that which is required

  • Acceptance at all levels that it is a long term strategy

  • Managing competing priorities such as manufacturing and marketing

  • Existence of a good learning culture

  • Setting realistic and achievable targets and monitoring performance

  • Proactive not reactive

  • Taking ownership of health and safety

  • A just, no blame culture

We hope you've found this piece informative and welcome your feedback.

Speak soon,
Danny

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