September 21, 2015

How to embed a positive Health & Safety culture

Health and Safety is a very important part of any organisation – but how people view it depends on the culture within the organisation.

Different organisations, indeed different sites within the same organisation, will have a different culture and outlook on Health and Safety.

Cultures are driven by Directors and Managers.  Take for example a Transport Yard with a site rule that all pedestrians MUST wear High Visibility clothing and use the marked walkways.  If the Managing Director is seen to walk straight from the car park across the path of moving vehicles without any adherences to the site rules what message does this send to his employees.

Before long all the employees start to wander around the yard and eventually one of them is fatally injured in a collision.

Is this accident the fault of the employee, the driver or the culture that has developed because the Managing Director deemed himself to be above the Company rules?

Elements of a positive safety culture

A positive safety culture has three key elements:

  • working practices and rules for effectively controlling hazards
  • a positive attitude towards risk management and compliance with the control processes
  • the capacity to learn from accidents, near misses and safety performance indicators and bring about continual improvement.

Organisations also need credible and honest safety inspections and reports so that managers know where they need to concentrate their efforts. It’s important to include near misses in this analysis, as many organisations have levels of reported injuries and ill health that are too low to be used as a basis for an improvement plan.

A prerequisite for a positive safety culture is good information. In order for the information to flow, the workforce needs to be willing to participate and be prepared to report their mistakes, near misses and accidents.  This require a NO BLAME approach to accident, incident and near miss investigations.

One way of identifying where you may need to improve your organisation’s health and safety culture is to assess your current safety climate.

Safety climate surveys describe an organisation’s culture using factors such as: –

  • the degree of leadership in health and safety and the commitment to healthy and safe working that is demonstrated by senior managers (eg visibility and close contact with the ‘shop floor’)
  • how much employees know and communicate about health and safety, how committed they are, and how reliably they attend health and safety training sessions
  • the extent to which different levels of the workforce are involved in the health and safety improvement process – the responsibility which employees show for their own and other people’s health and safety –
  • the degree of tolerance of risk taking behaviour
  • how well good health and safety performance is measured and reinforced – the arrangements for periodic reviews of health and safety culture and for implementing improvement plans.

Improving a Safety Culture requires leadership from senior managers, owners and directors.

  • Policies need to be clear and communicated to the workforce
  • All levels within an organization need to be aware of their roles and responsibilities, and how these interact with the roles of others.
  • Senior Management need to set clear targets and objectives around H&S performance
  • H&S is everyone’s responsibility and performance needs to be part of everyone’s performance reviews.
  • Mistakes will happen – a NO BLAME culture encourages mistakes to be reported, investigated and lessons learnt to prevent re-occurrence.
  • Risk Assessments, Audits, Inspections and Incident reporting become integral with the WAY WE DO THINGS.

Many of the skills used to manage Health and Safety within an organization are transferable to managing other areas of the business.  So a poor Health and Safety performance and Culture can often indicate issues and poor management elsewhere within your business.

if you need advice on this topic contact us or call 0844 391 1921.

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About the author

Eamon Griffin