Safety Culture

Culture is key to improving health and safety in your organisation.  A cultural approach doesn’t replace other approaches, like procedural, engineering and system improvements – but it underpins them and makes them more successful.  When we talk about health and safety culture, we are talking about ‘how we do things around here’, even when no one is looking.  All our behaviours reflect how we think: our assumptions, beliefs and attitudes.  In a strong safety culture, everyone has a shared safety mindset and works together to achieve common goals.  Health and safety culture is an essential part of organisational culture; so, if your overall culture promotes fairness, two-way communication, openness, honesty and personal responsibility, it will be easier to foster these values in a health and safety context.  Research reported by the New Zealand Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment shows that the benefits of a positive safety culture can include:

  • fewer accidents, injuries and lost time

  • safer behaviours among workers

  • improved well-being and job satisfaction

  • better relationships between management and staff.

As illustrated by Hudson's Safety Culture Maturity Model,  the culture of an organisation can vary tremendously where the "safety journey" is one of continuous improvement.   

7 Keys for Creating a Safety Culture

Key #1: Hazard Identification and Remediation

The entire workforce relentlessly pursues the identification and remediation of hazards.  Correcting hazards as quickly as possible and maintaining good communications around hazards will not only create a safer workplace, it will improve worker engagement.  Front-line staff who believe management takes care of hazards are more willing to participate fully in safety initiatives.

 

Key #2: Recognise Safe Behaviour

Employees at all levels are equally comfortable stopping each other when at-risk behaviour is observed and reinforcing each other when safe behaviour is observed.  While good constructive feedback is important for improvement, positive reinforcement for safe behaviour is essential for building safe habits.  The more actively involved all levels of the organisation are in delivering positive reinforcement for behaviours consistent with the desired culture, the stronger the culture will be.

 

Key #3: Avoid the Blame Game

No one is blamed for near misses or incidents.  Instead, systemic causes are pursued.  Often when people engage in at-risk behaviours that lead to incidents, there are organisational systems and practices that inadvertently encourage those at-risk practices.  It is important to apply Just Culture principles to uncover those at-risk practices and establish accountability for making the changes to the systems and practices that encourage safe behaviour.

 

Key #4: Use Positive Consequences

The fear of discipline which drives under-reporting and stifles involvement must be driven out of the culture.  Discipline has a place, but most safety issues can be effectively dealt with without discipline, which has side effects that work against building a strong culture of safety.  When discipline is used disproportionately in relation to positive consequences it leads to lower morale, reduced trust, lower productivity, less teamwork and lack of engagement.  Equally disturbing is that it suppresses reporting incidents which cripples the organisations ability to learn from mistakes and become more proactive.

 

Key #5: Build Trust and Relationships

The workforce is characterised by good relationships at all levels.  Trust is an essential component for an effective safety culture.  As noted above, mistakes and errors, while unfortunate, provide invaluable learning.  Employees who have good working relationships with management are more likely to speak openly and honestly about what is working, what is not and what still needs to change. They are also more engaged in other aspects of safety.

 

Key #6: Build Safety into Daily Processes

Safety is part of how work is done.  It is not treated as something separate to be discussed during a weekly safety meeting or only at shift change.  Safety should be part of every conversation and considered in every decision.

 

Key #7: Celebrate Success Often

Successes are celebrated along the way.  Pride shouldn’t be focused solely on a company’s safety record, but also in what is being done every day, all day to achieve that record.  These are the organisations leading safety indicators.