Over the past 30 years, Health and Safety has become a key focus for many businesses. For some, it is the cornerstone of operations with robust visions such as ‘zero harm’, ‘work safe home safe’ and ‘make safety your priority’, with the aim of improving performance and keeping workers safe.
Understanding what influences the culture of your organisation, can make a significant contribution to changing employee attitudes and behaviours in relation to workplace health and safety. For a safety culture to be successful it needs to be led from the top – that is, safety culture needs to be embraced and practised by the CEO and senior managers.
However, what is the measuring stick for safety performance? Is it reduced injuries, or zero fatalities?
Safety culture is the way safety is perceived, valued and prioritised in an organisation. It reflects the real commitment to safety at all levels in the business. It has also been described as “how an organisation behaves when no one is watching”.
Unfortunately, safety culture is not something you are given or can buy. It is something an organisation acquires, builds upon and develops over time.
Looking at the statistics, between 2000–01 and 2013–14, the number of reported serious claims decreased by close to 15% (approx. 20,000 injuries). During similar time frames, workplace fatalities have dropped from 259 to 195.
This data is all important, and can be interpreted in one of two ways, depending on which bracket suits your thinking: ‘glass half full’ or ‘half empty’.
However, these stats should be viewed as being undeniably alarming. Any fatality is unacceptable, and irreversible. And ALL injuries are avoidable.
Businesses have adopted many and varied approaches to improving safety over the years, historically driven by legislative compliance requirements. In an attempt to demonstrate compliance, organisations have often focused on developing Safety Management Systems. However, what is more notable is the lack of emphasis and energy on strategies to address an organisation’s Safety Culture.
Strong leadership and management commitment is directly related to safety performance as it demonstrates by example to employees what actions will be rewarded, tolerated or punished, which in turn influences what actions and behaviour employees initiate and maintain.
Companies that want to have a positive safety culture, which everyone owns, should also develop and promote managers with the right knowledge, skills and attitudes to successfully undertake the responsibilities of the safety.
For many, unlocking the secret to a successful safety culture is a ‘work in progress’. However, the question organisations should be asking themselves is: Do you have effective Safety Leaders in your organisation and do they demonstrate behaviour that:
- challenges the status quo;
- creates and supports a safety vision;
- encourages others to commit to the vision;
- motivates and inspires workers to overcome barriers;
- provides a platform for role models;
- promotes optimal worker well being;
- encourages innovation;
- encourages regular and open communication; and
- helps the organisation to develop by adapting to changing circumstances?
Creating a positive culture – where employees actively participate in health and safety – will help you to meet your duty of care and provide peace of mind that your employees are working safely. And the great thing about having a strong safety culture is it is self-sustaining. New employees are likely to adopt safe ways of working, and your existing employees will require less supervision from you long term.
A strong safety culture achieves more than just lower injury rates. If a workplace feels safe and secure, productivity and employee well-being are also going to be high, and employees are more committed to company goals and to working well together as a team.