Positive safety culture is the way where everyone within the organization thinks and feels about health and safety’s importance and how this is reflected in their behaviour. Positive safety culture within an organization is a characteristic of the organization that exists at all levels, from top management to workers. No one person determines the culture of the organization. All personnel who work for the organization determine it collectively.
It is important to note that culture is created and shared by people within the organization about health and safety. It’s not just one person’s way of thinking. Although it often happens that certain individuals will be highly influential in establishing and maintaining culture.
The objective of the positive safety culture of an organization committed to safety is to ensure the health and safety of workers and maintain the figure of ‘0’ accidents. In this sense, apart from improving equipment, processes and standards, it is crucial to make people aware of the importance of their safe behaviour to guarantee a safe and healthy environment. In this blog, we can help you boost your company’s positive safety culture.
Positive Safety culture definition
Shared attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviours related to health and safety. These can be positive or negative. It has to do with people’s attitudes and opinions – what they believe and their perceptions of the importance of health and safety, and how their thoughts and beliefs influence their behaviour related to health and safety.
The safety culture is a set of ways of doing and thinking widely shared by the head of an organization in everything related to the control of the main risks of their activities.
The concept of safety culture was born after the serious nuclear accident that occurred in Chornobyl in 1986. The official investigation of the accident pointed, among other causes, to non-compliance with procedures and lack of attitude on the part of the operators.
Currently, according to data provided by the International Labor Organization, every 15 seconds a worker dies in the world due to an accident or occupational disease and 153 more suffer injuries. These data indicate that there is still a long way to go in terms of occupational health and safety.
Health and safety culture
Ways of doing (organization of the structure, rules and procedures, technical choices, shared behaviours). This is the visible part. Ways of thinking (knowledge, beliefs, implicit evidence, relationships with authority and with debates). This is the invisible part, the hardest to perceive and the hardest to change.
Due to the very nature of the process, the aim is to raise the level of participation, commitment and empowerment of employees with safe work in each of the activities and processes. It is of perpetual interest in the process to improve the leading role of all employees in the promotion and consolidation of a safety culture, which allows indefinitely improving their proactive safety indicators and continuously exceeding the standards of safe work behaviours.
Importance of positive safety culture
On April 28, the World Day for Safety and Health at Work is celebrated. Through this day, the International Labor Organization (ILO) aims to raise awareness among the general public and, above all, among those responsible managers of companies and organizations about the obligation to take care of the health of workers.
And carry out actions to ensure the prevention of work accidents and occupational diseases throughout the world: a problem that causes the death of nearly 2.9 million workers each year and generates professional injuries to another 402 million.
“Acting together to build a positive safety culture”, the ILO intends to publicize the benefits and advantages of promoting a culture of prevention in terms of health and safety at work, based on participation and social dialogue.
A safety culture is created when the whole company
The divergences around the organizational culture associated with its central components, its visibility or invisibility, and, therefore, how to evaluate its basic dimensions, are reflected, and even amplified, in the concept of safety culture. The current definitions are quite similar and maintain, logically, a close relationship with the meaning of organizational culture; one of the most accepted conceptualizations expresses that:
“An organization’s safety culture is the product of the values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies, and behavioural patterns of individuals and groups that determine commitment, style, and skill about organizational health and safety management.”
For example, to achieve an accident-free work environment. The development of groups that support the vision and develop procedures or action plans to accompany the company’s mission will be reflected in goal-oriented processes, which will activate the objectives related to behaviours.
Safety excellence requires a significant culture change, which allows active participation of the workers or employees of an organization, as well as a high commitment of senior management in the transformation or change processes that can encourage all kinds of process that needs these characteristics.
Safety culture program
A safety culture program based on correcting unsafe behaviours and positively reinforcing safe behaviours through safety observations and conversations habits allows us to progressively build a culture of sustainable safety to prevent accidents by taking into account several factors:
- Commitment on the part of the Management – In this sense, it has to exercise visible, sincere and coherent leadership between what it believes, says and finally does.
- Promote teamwork – Unsafe behaviour can cause an accident, which harms the entire team. This fact has negative repercussions on production, but, above all, it can lead to loss of life. Therefore, it will be essential to raise awareness of safety so that people alone make responsible decisions and adopt safe behaviour at all times.
- Create safe habits – We have to work on correcting unsafe behaviours and reinforcing safe behaviours to establish new habits.
- Measure the objectives – Assessments and indices are crucial to assess an evolution, but some indicators tell us about positive safety culture within the organization, which will describe below.
- Communication – Communicating the achievements allows us to share organizational growth and value all people as an essential part to achieve the goals that we have proposed in terms of safety culture.
Relationship between Health and Safety Culture and Performance
There is a strong link between an organization’s health and safety culture and its health and safety performance. Companies with strong safety cultures tend to perform well, while those with weak negative cultures act badly. Managers think about the health and safety implications of their decisions and workers do the same.
In an organization, it is easy to see the clear link between health and safety culture and performance. People work safely, so there will be fewer accidents and fewer illnesses. It’s also easy to see why organizations struggle to create a strong and positive safety culture because, when there is one, it has a direct influence on the behaviour of workers.
Negative safety culture
In an organization with a negative health and safety culture, most of the workers think and feel that health and safety are not important. They have little health and safety education and see it as unnecessary or interference.
Managers don’t think about health and safety in their decision-making and let other priorities, such as short-term profit. Workers behave unsafely, often because they don’t know any better.
Negative indicators of health and safety culture
Factors that hurt the positive safety culture in an organization include:
- Lack of strong safety leadership from management.
- Presence of a culture of blame.
- Lack of management commitment to safety.
- Health and safety are given lower priority than other business issues.
- High staff turnover rates.
- Lack of resources.
- Lack of consultation with workers.
- Poor management systems and procedures.
Positive indicators of health and safety culture
There are many indicators of an organization’s health and safety culture that will show whether it is a strong and positive safety culture or negative. Because health and safety culture is defined in part by how people think and feel (their attitudes, their beliefs and their priorities) and these are intangible concepts and difficult to measure.
So instead of trying to safety culture assessment directly, it is often easier to assess it indirectly by looking at tangible results that can be used as indicators. There is no single indicator that can be used to assess the culture of health and safety instead, several indicators must be examined together, such as:
Lagging indicators can be used to calculate how many accidents are occurring at a rate (for example, the number of accidents per 100,000 hours worked; we’ll talk about this later). The accident rate of a particular organization can be compared with the performance of the organization in previous years. This will indicate whether the accident rate is increasing or decreasing. A decreasing rate could be seen as an indicator of a positive safety culture.
Looking at the quality of the investigations that follow accidents and the effort that is put into preventing a recurrence is another way of using accidents as an indicator of safety and health culture. In an organization:
- With a positive health and safety culture, much time and effort will be spent investigating accidents, writing investigation reports and introducing follow-up actions to prevent a recurrence.
- With a negative health and safety culture, superficial accident investigations, poor reporting quality, and follow-up action is not taken, or are ineffective (and may focus on blaming the worker rather than identifying why it happened).
Much of ill health is caused or made worse by work. For example, in many countries, a large number of work days are lost due to back pain, and a significant proportion of that back pain will have been caused or worsened by the work that individuals are doing. Sickness rates can be used in the same way as accident rates. Decrease in sickness rate as an indicator of positive safety culture.
A high level of worker absenteeism indicates that workers are unable or unwilling to go to work. If they cannot, this could indicate that they are suffering from health problems caused or made worse by work, as we noted above. Yes, they are unwilling, it indicates that they are holding their job for some reason.
This is usually caused by poor morale of the workforce which, in turn, can be related to a poor health and safety culture. Decrease in Absenteeism rate as an indicator of positive safety culture.
An organization with a positive health and safety culture is often a good place to work. Workers feel safe, As a result, workers remain with their employer longer. So, low staff turnover may indicate a good and positive safety culture, while high staff turnover may indicate otherwise.
Compliance with safety rules and regulations
In an organization with a positive safety culture, most workers want to work safely, so Comply with the safety standards and procedures established by the organization. Formal or informal safety inspections or audits generally find that there is a high level of compliance.
When a negative health and safety culture exists, the opposite is often the case. Workers don’t follow the rules either because they do not know what they are (perhaps due to poor training) or because they know the rules but do not want to follow them (perhaps because of a bad attitude). Workers are free to break the rules due to poor supervision. They will know that they will not punish.
Complaints about working conditions
There is an evident link between the culture of safety and health and the number and type of complaints filed by workers (and worker safety representatives) to management. An organization with a positive safety culture can actively encourage complaints, but few serious ones will be made. An organization with a negative health and safety culture can discourage workers from filing complaints, although many of the complaints filed will be legitimate and serious.
Benefits of a positive health and safety culture
Several factors cause employees to behave insecurely: haste, lack of motivation, low-risk perception, and monotony, among others. Hence the importance for workers to incorporate the value of safety into their day-to-day activities and promote safe habits that allow the development of a long-term sustainable safety culture.
In short, when we talk about positive safety culture we refer to how people perceive, value and prioritize safety. And they express it through their behaviours, both individually and collectively.
My experience with the implementation of a safety culture program improved safety levels and safe companies experience higher performance and, therefore, profits.
Some organizational cultures are more favourable than others to take safety into account in their interventions.
Numerous investigations have revealed the desirable characteristics of an organizational culture favourable to industrial safety, which can be grouped into major attributes.
How to improve safety culture
Done, you can unequivocally minimize the occurrence of the incidents. Building a strong safety culture is an intensive and dedicated procedure that requires the commitment and willingness of all members of the organization. At each hierarchical level, the workers of an organization have unique responsibilities regarding the development of a Positive Safety Culture and the guarantee of success is based on the integration of the action that is deployed between all these levels and workers.
- Occupational health and safety management system.
- Strong health and safety policy
- Observation technique.
- Record critical tasks and procedures.
- Behaviour reinforcement techniques and effective communication processes.
- Antecedent model application, behaviours and consequences for behaviour analysis.
- On-site training, and analysis of real situations.
- Work systems, processes and employee practices.
- Management/culture, leadership and management practices.
- Teamwork and collaboration.
- Participation of workers.
- Work environment and employee morale.
- Knowledge, attitudes and behaviours.
A strong safety culture is achieved in the following ways:
Communication-related to the Behavior-Based Safety Management Process should be improved and systematized. At the beginning of the working day, 5 minutes a day toolbox talk should be dedicated to dealing with the most sensitive and priority safety aspects of each area.
Teamwork, collaboration and participation should be increased significantly, and the meetings of the improvement groups attention and solution to each of the causes that determined the risky behaviours that were detected by the observers too.
- The organization promotes an environment that stimulates effective communication processes in which people feel shielded against any type of intimidation or possibilities of confrontation and problems for actively participating in the change processes required by Industrial Safety.
- The achievement of a real and effective commitment to improving behaviours and attitudes towards safety, at all levels of the organization.
- A flexible work approach to adapt effectively and safely to new situations; an attitude in which constant vigilance and proactivity prevail in the face of change.
- Positive Safety Culture will be strengthened if employees decide to incorporate the organization’s vision and attitudes into their perspective on safety and translate that attitude into their actions.
Safety leadership refers to the process of monitoring compliance with the objectives of the industrial safety management process and adjusting any significant deviation. This safety surveillance process relies on the use of the authority of general managers and mid-level managers, including supervisors, making employees obey the safety rules and control commitment and actions regarding safety.
The modelling of a Positive Safety Culture and effective safety management contributes to effective safety performance management, the commitment to safety and action of CEOs and middle managers are the most important.
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