16th November, 2023
Your health and safety culture is something that can't be seen and is difficult to measure. But every business has one, and it could be good or bad. Growing a positive health and safety culture is one of the best ways to improve health and safety performance.
When you think about health and safety culture, you might look at your health and safety performance, your accident records, or your health and safety team. But health and safety records are often a delayed reflection or a result of your health and safety culture, and not a measurement of the culture itself.
A health and safety culture is difficult to measure. It's unseen. Your health and safety culture is within your people - it's in their attitudes and behaviour.
The safety culture of an organisation is the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies, and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organisation’s health and safety management.
You can put in place systems, controls, paperwork and training. But without a positive health and safety culture, you're never going to get the best results.
Don't get me wrong, having the right systems in place is important. But that's only half the battle. You need everyone to be on board.
If people have bad attitudes or behaviours, they are just ticking boxes or doing the minimum they need to do. Or worse, cutting corners when no one is watching.
And your health and safety culture will have a big impact on the overall health and safety performance within your workplace. Down the line, in the future months and years, the culture you develop today will impact the type of workplace you create.
A good health and safety culture creates a safe workplace where everyone follows the rules and works together to keep people safe.
So how can we grow a positive health and safety culture? How do you change people's attitudes and behaviours?
Strong health and safety leadership is a good place to start. If your team have a bad attitude towards health and safety, then you need to look at where things are going wrong.
Start at the top.
And management commitment means every manager. Not just the health and safety manager. Health and safety culture is about everyone. Not one person or department.
Of course, there are other business demands and priorities to meet. Deadlines, customer demands, contractual demands, competitor influences. Plenty of headaches to address.
Balance other business demands with (rather than against) your health and safety rules. Make sure the procedures are sensible and reasonable and can be applied under workplace pressures.
If you plan impossible workloads that simply cannot be carried out without rushing or cutting corners, then that's what will happen. People will rush. Workers will cut corners. And accidents will follow.
If you put in place systems, rules, and requirements for your team, be committed to them. If your actions contradict your words, then what kind of message are you sending?
Managers lead the way. Be the positive health and safety message, in both what you say, and what you do.
Now that you've committed to growing a positive health and safety culture, you need to show that commitment to your team.
It's not just about wearing your PPE or following the rules. It's also about enforcing the rules, and dealing with safety issues when they happen (and they will happen). And again, this should come from the top down.
Senior management should show an interest and involvement with health and safety, after all, a safe and healthy workforce is vital for business success.
Your team is a reflection of your leadership.
If you disregard health and safety rules and act like they don't apply to you, employees will follow that message. Maybe they look up to you and follow your example. Or maybe they don't see why they should follow the rules if you don't.
If you put rules in place but don't follow through by providing the controls needed or enforcing them, then people won't take the rules seriously.
If you say you take safety seriously but let work continue after an unsafe situation or near-miss has been reported, then actions speak louder than words.
If you say 'safety first' but bend the rules when there's a deadline approaching, you undermine your message and the health and safety culture.
So lead from the top, check that rules are being followed, and follow through with what you say.
In businesses with a positive health and safety culture, health and safety is discussed at all levels of the organisations.
Don't forget, your health and safety culture is the combined values of everyone. If just one person doesn't get the message or feels like the rules don't apply to them, it can damage the health and safety culture of the entire organisation.
Plan regular discussions, safety meetings, briefings, and toolbox talks. Discuss health and safety at management meetings. Discuss it during workplace walkarounds. Use every opportunity to engage people, to deliver the message, and to get feedback.
We've talked about management commitment and leadership, and while your health and safety culture starts at the top, it doesn't end there. For a positive health and safety culture to grow, everyone needs to be involved.
In the previous section, we said that good communication is an important part of your health and safety culture. And when you communicate with and involve your employees in your health and safety planning, something else happens. They feel part of it.
Employees shouldn't see health and safety as something that is being forced on them. They should see health and safety as something they are involved in, and equally responsible for, and understand its importance in keeping them safe.
People are much more accepting of rules and procedures if they understand why they are needed, and if they are involved in creating them in the first place.
Health and safety culture takes time to grow, but once you get the foundations in place, you will start a momentum which with continued good health and safety habits, will blossom into a positive health and safety culture.
But your health and safety culture can also be damaged if you let bad habits creep in.
As time goes by, you should continue to review your health and safety systems and the rules you have put in place. Gather feedback, check performance, and make changes.
But most importantly, keep growing.
Ready to get feedback from your team? Start with the free near-miss report form, and stop accidents before they happen.
This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.
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