Safety Culture and the Organisation
The safety culture within an organisation is considered to be a reflection of the attitudes, actions, and behaviours of all employees concerning safety. This includes the leadership team, the managers, supervisors, and employees and cascades to contractors and subcontractors.
Simply stated, safety in itself is a positive value - it prevents injuries, saves lives, and improves productivity and outcomes. When safety is actively practiced and regarded as a critical core value by organisational leaders, it bestows a sense of confidence and caring that will have a ripple effect throughout other business processes.
A strong safety culture also protects the organisation's reputation because a robust safety culture emanates from ethical, moral, and practical considerations, rather than purely compliance to regulatory requirements.
This post seeks to outline some key considerations for organisations at the beginning of their safety culture journey, and for those who just want an overview of what matters;
1) Leadership and Management of Safety
The tone of the within an organisation is without a doubt set by the organisational leadership, this is no different for safety culture. Leaders are the key proponent in building a strong safety culture. Leaders can inspire their workforce by demonstrating a commitment to safety and where they are willing to seek open and transparent communications that will build trust, lead by example, accept responsibility for actions and behaviours and hold themselves and others accountable for safety.
2) Ongoing Development of Safety Awareness
To ensure that your organisation maintains its safety culture, safety needs to be continuously reinforced. Whether it be through formal programs, or through peer or supervisory efforts. It is critical that organisations understand the risk profile of their business, and ensure that practical development is given to hazard identification, hazard assessment, and hazard management. These skills are learned skills, they aren't intrinsic - they come through experience and the support of others.
3) Safety Attitudes, Safety Awareness, and Ethics
Having a positive attitude and safety awareness within the organisation is critical. Ensuring that the expectations for safety are embedded in individuals from the very beginning is crucial to the long-term success of any safety program. Teaching safety early and linking safety to the organisational values embeds a sense of worth and right in your employees. Over time, and with support and encouragement, the will develop an ethical obligation to observe, intervene and correct unsafe acts or conditions.
4) Learning From Incidents
Unfortunately, much of the 'body of knowledge' in safety is the result of lessons that have been learned from mistakes, errors, oversights, and accidents. Organisations that look at these incidents, and those of the wider industry, and then take these as an opportunity to create a learning experience for their workforce can reap long-term rewards. By their nature, incidents pique the curiosity of the workforce - using the details and lessons of an accident can capture the imagination of the workforce and provides them with an opportunity to think about how safety mitigation could have prevented that accident. It is critical though that to get these lessons and to have these opportunities, organisations must establish a culture of reporting and investigation, identifying the direct and root causes and implementing the corrective actions - without these, your safety culture will suffer due to a lack of credibility and trust.
5) Collaborative Interactions
To ensure a sustainable safety culture, organisations must establish an active and cross-sectional HSE Committee. It is important that the Committee is representative of the workplace (dynamic, culture, geography and craft). One key aspect of these committees is that they should always collaborative, and the actions and outcomes always built on trust. Through activities such as publishing materials, informing the workforce, or presenting workplace ideas to management - the HSE Committee is integral in cross-pollinating safety in your organisation.
6) Promoting and Communicating Safety
Sharing experiences is probably one of the most effective ways to influence others, not just in the workplace, but in society in general. More recently, such forums as TED Talks have demonstrated that communicating a message by sharing personal experiences can be enormously powerful. There is an industry of speakers willing to come to your organisation (for a price) and discuss safety with your employees. More often though, and this is seen time and time again, the messages that matter are those that come from the line manager. These aren't always spoken or written, they can be demonstrated through action and support of the line management. This sense of 'walk-the-talk' messaging is critical to the success of building a safety culture, as develops a sense of trust up the line. Providing recognition to safety 'leaders', and using such forums as seminars or weekly safety posters/bulletins/newsletters can go a long way for any organisation.
7) Encouraging Organisational Support for Safety
There are times when implementing aspects of the above-mentioned programs will require support. Organisations recognise this as a cost, and that is a reasonable and fair assessment. It is critical that the costs of developing a safety culture are clear and transparent, and determining these early in your journey is fundamental. There are costs for training material, for printing materials, rewards programs, the budget for safety courses, allocation of budget to fix 'hazards' identified by the workforce and a multitude of other things that will be unique to your workplace and safety culture program. The message here is to understand these and be realistic about the costs and the benefit. Establishing realistic budgetary estimates, justifying the costs with integrity and then obtaining the approval of management ensures the success of the program. Do not underestimate the importance of this step - without management support, the program will ultimately fail.
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