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The business case for developing an effective safety culture

An effective safety culture can positively impact on your bottom line and the productivity of your organisation. Establishing a culture of safety within any organisation is a complex and difficult process.

Once properly in place, however, it can be a powerful motivator that leads to big payoffs and the  groundwork for further corporate culture. The growth of an effective safety culture is scientific, with stages and benchmarks for success. It occurs through the careful analysis of work objectives, accident reporting, and process.

A safety culture needs to be more than a vision statement and a zero-accident approach.

At its core, workplace health and safety has four essential parts:

  • Culture—the values, assumptions, norms and everyday behaviours of an organisation’s people
  • Compliance—meeting mandated regulatory standards
  • Risk Management—processes to better identify risk and to control exposures
  • Governance—establishing controls by which an organisation can validate and ensure compliance standards and policies

To truly create lasting change, organisations must create an environment in which safety is more than just a box to be ticked but is an attitude that makes up the very foundation of the company and is upheld by everyone from frontline workers to senior management.

The first stage of creating an effective safety culture is the analysis of current safety conditions:

  • What sort of safety structure already exists?
  • What level of communication currently exists around safety culture?
  • Are standards for injury and incident prevention being met?
  • Are current standards enough?

Root out causes of unsafe behaviour and it will reveal the corporate cultural issues you need to address

The causes of unsafe behaviour will reveal the groundwork necessary for incident reduction. Employee motivation and behaviour is important, but it’s just as important to evaluate management. The decline of safety within an organisation can be compared to an ecosystem losing balance—by the time numbers have visibly begun to shift, the cause of the problem already has a firm root. At this point, change is difficult. If incidents and injuries have begun to occur, poor attitudes and behaviour have already become commonplace, however, by observing and analysing to determine what causes these poor attitudes and behaviours we can begin weeding them out.

Health, safety and environmental issues become everyone’s responsibility

An effective safety culture also translates to the responsibility for health, safety and environmental issues becoming firmly established as an integral part of the line management function. Rather than being the sole domain of the safety officer, this means all levels of line management need to possess a much greater knowledge of how to develop and implement high quality safety management systems. They also need to know how to manage safety on a day to day basis throughout their areas of responsibility. This builds an attitude rooted in long-term excellence, streamlined operational processes with optimised associated management and control systems.

Maintaining a positive safety culture rather than being the ‘health and safety police’ and enforcer

The safety practitioner's advise line-managers on both the development and implementation of appropriate control and monitoring systems and the review of ongoing safety performance. Which means they are free to conduct independent reviews of the whole safety management system - rather than being the ‘health and safety police’ and enforcer.

This means the safety practitioner's role becomes that of a high-level internal consultant. They are expected to offer independent advice to senior management on the development of the organisation's safety policies and their short, medium and long term strategic objectives for creating and maintaining a positive safety culture.

Establishing a culture of safety involves a fundamental shift in thinking and behaviour and organisation-wide commitment. It takes time to create and time to foster, but it is an investment well worth making because of the positive impact it can have on the health of any business and its workforce.