Growing a Positive Safety Culture
How can I encourage my managers and staff to adopt and maintain a positive appraoch to safety?
According to ‘IOSH’ (The Institute Of Safety and Health) the culture of an organisation is ‘The characteristic shared attitudes, values, beliefs and practices of people at work concerning not only the management of risks that they encounter but also the necessity, practicality and effectiveness of preventative measures.’ Such factors therefore combine to form the way an organisation collectively thinks lives and thrives.
The challenge facing senior management is to provide a quality of leadership that is of sufficient strength to stimulate a positive mental attitude to safety that assists its business objectives. Thus if an organisation states in its safety policy and within its general ethos that it sees safety as its top priority, it must grow a set of values amongst its staff that vindicates this statement. Safety must be seen as an ingredient in any task that is as critical to the task’s performance as the work process itself.
In many respects good management of health and safety is a bi-product of a successful business. If an organisation cares about the well-being of its workforce and takes steps to be legally compliant, it is far more likely to be a high performer in terms of overall business efficiency and achievement. The reverse also applies.
Safety can contribute to the bottom-line efficiency of a business. For example, development of a transparent safety management system strongly appeals to insurance companies and can prove a real negotiating tool to reverse the trend of ever increasing premiums. There are other examples within the supply chain where the HSE’s motto ‘Good Safety is Good Business’ undoubtedly applies.
In order to comply with safety requirements it is first necessary for everyone concerned to have a clear understanding of what is and is not required. A variety of both verbal and non-verbal methods should be used including simple safety signs and notices, written instructions and procedures, reinforced by regular briefings or ‘Toolbox talks’ and appropriate supervision.
Employers have a duty to consult with employees on health and safety matters. Formal health and safety committees, held in a non-judgemental atmosphere, where management and staff feel free to speak openly and honestly about work situations are in many respects the cornerstone of a positive health and safety culture. Perhaps the constant question should be: ‘This is what we must do, now how do we do it practically and safely?’ This approach is likely to encourage buy-in and commitment at all levels if it is appropriately cascaded throughout the workforce. Decisions and outcomes from such meetings should be clear, unequivocal and preferably kept short and simple.
Management priorities start at the top. Thus a commitment to health and safety shown at board level will be reflected throughout the organisation. Written, specific line-management responsibilities should be identified and summarised by a flow chart. Management should have appropriate delegated authority to make decisions relating to safety supported by a financial budget commensurate with aims and objectives. Managers should be expected to talk the talk and walk the walk. No well intended decisions made in safety committees will lead a faster path to cynicism than an action vacuum. Leadership by example is vital. If corporate objectives place demands on management to the extent that corners have to be cut on health and safety issues in the relentless pursuit of inflated production targets all traces of a positive safety culture will rapidly vanish.
TRAINING AND COMPETENCE
One reason for poor safety compliance is a lack of competent personnel to set high standards and lead the drive for safe working practices. Competence is not only about qualifications and experience, but involves the need for good communication skills and a positive attitude. Whilst management may lack the detailed knowledge necessary to plan and implement safe procedures, there is a requirement on employers to acquire that knowledge by appointing such specialists as may be necessary. This may be done by bringing in external advisers, who can act as a catalyst to stimulate action in such relevant areas as may be necessary.
The pressure on employees to provide staff with necessary safety training extends across the entire organisation and should be specific to an individual’s health and safety role, whether as an operative needing to understand working practices and safety measures or first aiders appointed to deal with particular emergencies.
No matter what incentive there may be to maintain high standards of safety, the stick will invariably need to accompany the carrot. It must be made transparently clear that failure to comply with safety procedures and instructions is not only a violation of the organisation’s disciplinary code but may also be a criminal offence. Employees are required to co-operate with employers on matters relating to health and safety at work and this should be seen as mandatory and non-negotiable.