Your organisation may be legally compliant with all the relevant safety regulations, but if you don’t have a strong safety culture in place, you are only halfway there.
A positive safety culture does more than reduce risk for staff, customers, and visitors. It also boosts your employees’ job satisfaction and feelings of loyalty toward the company, encourages retention, and can even make workers more productive. Of course, a strong safety culture is also one of the best ways to prevent accidents at your workplace. Given the range of benefits it can deliver, developing a positive safety culture should be one of your key priorities.
Defining a Safety Culture
Every organisation could benefit from a positive safety culture, but what does that culture look like?
A safety culture resembles any other kind of human culture in that it involves shared beliefs, practices, and attitudes that shape behaviour. The secret to a successful culture is that employees play a key role in it. It is not enough to come up with policies and procedures around safety and leave it at that.
Directors and health and safety officers must ensure that establishing a proper safety culture is an important part of their corporate governance role. They need to consider how they are supporting a positive safety culture in the way they do the following:
- Providing guidance in establishing the correct safety and health direction
- Setting achievable standards and objectives for management on safety and health
- Giving managers responsibility, accountability, and support for safety and health management
- Considering how you measure your managers’ accountability for the safety and health responsibilities you give them
- Determining how you will oversee internal control for safety and health
- Adopting a proactive approach
Being Proactive about Safety Culture
When you are setting the strategic aims for your business, it is vital to understand the importance of safety performance in the context of the company’s overall performance. When you take corporate responsibility for safety, you need to take an active role in shaping a positive attitude to safety and health for the entire company. You can do this by:
- Prioritising safety as an intrinsic part of the management process
- Establishing clear safety and health values and standards for the entire organisation
- Being strategic about corporate safety and health responsibilities
- Maintaining an open and constructive attitude toward safety and health regulation
- Supporting and rewarding good safety and health behaviour
- Encouraging a culture of responsibility for safety and health matters
Managers who are directly involved in their staff’s day-to-day activities can provide a significant positive influence over workers’ attitudes to safety, shaping the way duties are performed, how other managers interpret safety and health policies, and promoting an exemplary safety and health culture among the workforce.
Employees’ attitudes to safety and health are guided by how they perceive their managers’ commitment to safety and health. This is why you need to show obvious and active support, robust leadership, and commitment to a positive safety culture.
Creating a Vision for Safety
An organisation’s vision aligns with its mission to set the priorities and direction of the organisation’s work. If you work to embed a vision for total safety within the organisation, you show that safety is a core value.
You can do this by building trust, demonstrating respect, and encouraging inclusion. This means acting consistently at all times and making trust, respect, and inclusion are non-negotiable standards that extends across all levels of the company. Senior management is responsible for ensuring the board is educated on the foundations of safety, and the board must ensure that there are measurement tools in place to assess the organisation’s compliance with safety and a culture of safety. These tools should be reviewed and analysed regularly and the results should be put into practice.
Management must also set expectations for the design and delivery of relevant safety training for staff at all levels of the organisation. Mistakes will be made, but if you have a fair and effective safety culture in place, the focus will remain on addressing systems that contribute to errors and risk. Your workforce needs to be supported when systems break down and not targeted if errors occur. This kind of safety culture ensures that staff at all levels feel empowered and unafraid to express concerns about safety risks.
As well as establishing expected safety standards for the organisation, management must also model safe behaviours and attitudes themselves. It’s not enough to simply tell workers what is expected of them; you need to embody that safety culture yourself. You can do this through effective teamwork, active communication, and direct and relevant feedback. When upper levels of the organisation show their commitment to a proper safety culture, the entire workforce feels involved in supporting and exemplify that culture.