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Safety Culture

11 January 2010

Ensuring your safety culture is positive will provide your organisation with numerous benefits as well as avoiding accidents, fines, compensation payments and legal action, says Neil Rush

THE CONFEDERATION OF BRITISH INDUSTRY describes the culture of an organisation as: -"the mix of shared values, attitudes and patterns of behaviour that give the organisation its particular character”. They suggest that the “safety culture of an organisation could be described as the ideas and beliefs that all members of the organisation share about risk, accidents and ill health”.
Past court cases reveal poor safety cultures:
● the £24,000 fine of a company for failure to undertake adequate legionella surveys of water systems of their nursing homes
● a hazardous waste treatment company fined £90,000 for causing a fire and then failing to prevent a re-occurrence
● a fine of £16,000 and £14,500 costs for misleading a group of painters that the work they were carrying out in a hospital was safe, despite knowing that they were at risk of asbestos exposure.
Virtually every major accident investigation highlighted a failure of management to manage health and safety issues. Directors and Board Members set the values of their organisation and whether safety will be treated with the necessary priority or just left to fall off the agenda.
The essential principles for a safety culture include:
● Company leadership committed to H&S
● Identification and management of H&S risks
● Assessment and review
● Employee involvement/consultation
● Accessing and following competent advice
● Monitoring, reporting and correcting.
I have witnessed many organisations that have tried to improve their safety culture by sending their staff on training courses – often referred to as “bottom-up” training. They often return to their workplace and try to implement the lessons taught, only to find resistance to change from the ‘untrained’ management or failure of management to provide the right equipment, etc. to assist with necessary H&S changes.
Many organisations seek assistance and guidance from consultants, including drafting the H&S policy, risk assessments and other similar work. This is not sufficient to change your safety culture – it needs company leadership to drive the policy forward and employee understanding to buy into the changes.
There is no ‘single fit all’ solution that suits all organisations. For this reason policies and risk assessments must be specific to your company and not a generic document or the policy adapted from a previous employer. A name change on the front cover will not make it your policy. The simple checklist will help you to identify how well you are doing in achieving a safety culture in your organisation.
However, some of the most comprehensive H&S documentation I have seen failed due of inadequate monitoring, identification of appropriate corrective action and finally undertaking the action. Sounds simple, and it is simple, but many organisations fail this simple test. Internal auditing can fail because the managers audit their own area or, due to the fact that they have been undertaking it for a number of years, they fail to see the problems. Internal auditors need to be trained not only in H&S but also auditing skills. They should also audit another area of the business for which they are not responsible, an independent view.
Alternatively you could use the services of an independent consultant to undertake such audits. It will, in either case, be important to establish clear and concise reporting procedures, identify corrective action to be taken and by whom, and agree suitable timescales.
A positive safety culture in your organisation not only ensures you meet and exceed legal requirements, but also have a motivated and happy workforce, with a reduced risk of accidents. And, to keep the financial controllers happy, it ensures the best use of limited financial resources by careful identification of need whilst reducing the risk of fines and compensation payments.

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