Safety Culture and Safety Performance

Safety Culture and Safety Performance

In 1972, the Robens report recognized that introducing health and safety management systems was essential if the ideal of self-regulation of health and safety by industry was to be realized. It further recognized that more active workforce involvement in such systems was important if self-regulation was to work. Self-regulation, the implicit need for health and safety management systems, and employee involvement were incorporated into the Health and Safety at Work (HSW) Act.

Since the introduction of the HSW, health and safety standards have improved considerably, but there have been some catastrophic failures. One of the worst was the fire on the off-shore oil platform, Piper Alpha, in 1988 when 167 people died. At the subsequent inquiry, the concept of a safety culture was defined by the Director-General of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), J. R. Rimington. This definition has remained one of the key points for a successful health and safety management system. 

Definition of a health and safety culture

An organization’s health and safety culture may be described as the development stage of the organization in health and safety management at a particular time. HSG65 gives the following definition of a health and safety culture: 

An organization’s safety culture is the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies, and patterns of behavior that determine the commitment to and the style and proficiency of an organization’s health and safety management. 

Organizations with a positive safety culture are characterized by communications founded on mutual trust, shared perceptions of the importance of safety, and confidence in the efficacy of preventive measures. 

There is concern among some health and safety professionals that many health and safety cultures are developed and driven by senior managers with very little input from the workforce. Others argue that this arrangement is sensible because the legal duties are placed on the employer. A positive health and safety culture need the whole workforce’s involvement just as a successful quality system does. There must be a joint commitment in terms of attitudes and values. The workforce must believe that the safety measures will be effective and followed even when financial and performance targets may be affected. 

The relationship between health and safety culture and health and safety performance

The following elements are the important components of a positive health and safety culture: 

  • Leadership and commitment to health and safety throughout and at all levels of the organization; 
  • Acceptance that high standards of health and safety are achievable as part of a long-term strategy formulated by the organization; 
  • A detailed assessment of health and safety risks in the organization and the development of appropriate control and monitoring systems; 
  • A health and safety policy statement outlining short and long-term health and safety objectives. Such a policy should also include codes of practice and required health and safety standards; relevant employee training programs and communication and consultation procedures; 
  • Systems for monitoring equipment, processes, and procedures and the prompt rectification of any defects; 
  • The prompt investigation of all incidents and accidents and reports detailing any necessary remedial actions. 

If the organization adheres to these elements, then a basis for a good performance in health and safety will have been established. However, to achieve this level of performance, sufficient financial and human resources must be made available for the health and safety function at all levels of the organization. 

All managers, supervisors, and members of the governing body (e.g., directors) should receive training in health and safety and be made familiar during training sessions with the health and safety targets of the organization. The depth of training undertaken will depend on the level of competence required of the particular manager. Managers should be accountable for health and safety within their departments and be rewarded for significant health and safety performance improvements. They should also be expected to discipline employees within their departments who infringe health and safety policies or procedures. 

Factors affecting a health and safety culture

The most important factor affecting the culture is the commitment to health and safety from the top of an organization. This commitment may be shown in many different ways. It needs to have a formal aspect of an organizational structure, job descriptions, and a health and safety policy. Still, it also needs to be apparent during crises or other stressful times. The health and safety procedures may be circumvented or forgotten when production or other performance targets are threatened. 

Structural reorganization or changes in market conditions will produce feelings of uncertainty among the workforce, which, in turn, will affect the health and safety culture. 

Poor levels of supervision, health and safety information, and training are very significant factors in reducing health and safety awareness and, therefore, the culture. 

Finally, consultation and involvement with the workforce in health and safety matters is crucial for a positive health and safety culture and to reduce the negative safety culture elements. Most of these factors may be summed up as human factors. 

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