By Dupe Domeih, Consultant at Croner

What is the health and safety culture of an organisation?

The culture of an organisation is a reflection of the way in which the organisation operates; it describes how, where, who, when and why an organisation operates in a particular way. All organisations can be said to have a culture of some kind. To promote a positive health and safety culture, everyone in the organisation needs to understand what is meant by “health and safety culture”.

The culture of an organisation contributes greatly to its health and safety performance. Having a good health and safety management system can go some way to setting the scene for developing a good culture, but it goes much deeper than that, and the role managers play is critical to health and safety performance.

The role of managers

The attitudes and behaviour of managers is critical in setting the priorities of the organisation. Some of the ways by which managers can help to promote positive approaches to health and safety include leading by example, effective communication and engagement with staff, encouraging a learning culture, promoting a “just, no-blame culture”, and tracking and monitoring progress to fight complacency.

Leadership style

Managers communicate the beliefs which underlie an organisation’s policy through their individual behaviour and management practice. Managers, particularly senior managers, communicate powerful signals about the importance and significance of health and safety objectives if they lead by example. Staff recognise what their managers regard as important and act accordingly. A manager’s role should not simply be restricted to directing work and monitoring compliance with rules and regulations, but should show initiative and proactiveness. Managers acting as leaders and facilitators encourage suggestions and motivate and engage with their staff to solve health and safety challenges. In leading by example, managers demonstrate their commitment to the organisation’s health and safety objectives, and this filters down to their staff, who follow suit. This has an overall effect of positively influencing health and safety culture.

Communication and staff engagement

Managers may have the right approach and keenness to promoting a positive health and safety culture but this cannot be achieved without effective communication and staff engagement. Employees play an important role in shaping the health and safety culture of an organisation. Managers that work with their staff, engage with them regularly, encourage an open door policy to discuss issues and provide timely feedback generate effective communication within teams.

Proactive communication by managers can be achieved through regular planned meetings, face to face discussions, health and safety briefings etc. Regular communication and staff engagement can identify any issues that staff may have at an early stage, eg competence issues, additional training needs, welfare provisions and facilities, so that these can be addressed in a timely manner. Active involvement in health and safety empowers staff to take ownership for health and safety, which is a positive step towards preventing and controlling hazards.

Promoting a just, no-blame culture

Managers need to promote a “just, no blame culture” where blame is only used where it is clear that someone took reckless risks. Managers need to demonstrate care and concern towards staff when things genuinely go wrong, which will encourage staff to report issues and incidents without fear.

When investigating incidents reported by staff, managers should have a good understanding of the mechanism of human error and the ability to assess the degree of culpability. This will help them to identify not only the immediate causes but also underlying root causes, which are usually system, organisation or management related, and to take corrective action to prevent the incident repeating.

Monitoring progress and tracking performance

Continuous reviewing and monitoring of health and safety performance is a positive way of gauging the health and safety culture in an organisation and a means for improving on existing processes. Managers need to ensure that reliable performance indicators are in place that reflects the hazards to which staff are exposed. They need to have a competence assurance program to ensure that staff have the right skills they need to work safely and help them identify any issues and establish actions for improvement.

Croner offers a wide range of health and safety solutions, including health and safety management software, information, accident reporting and consultancy. For more information visit www.cronersolutions.co.uk

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