When you work in health and safety, there are certain phrases and buzz words that seem to come up time and time again. Some of them, however, seem more prevalent than others. The term ‘safety culture’ will be familiar to most of us in the industry. Yet how many of us actually stop to consider what it actually means?
The thing about any culture is that, by its very nature, it’s difficult to define. That’s because all cultures are – or at least should be – constantly evolving, reacting to changes in the law, shifts in society and technological innovations. When it comes to safety culture, it’s no different. They should therefore reflect changes in the working environment, equipment, systems and procedures, and the people within the organisation.
We can trace back the etymology of the word ‘culture’ to Roman times. It originally meant cultivation of the soul or mind, and while its meaning has shifted over the centuries, it still implies a guiding principle that should imbue every action we take. If we think about this in terms of the workplace, it suggests that every staff member, from top to bottom, needs to both understand and believe in the importance of safety.
In other words, it’s not enough to provide safe equipment, systems and procedures if the culture doesn’t encourage healthy and safe working. Rather, we must create positive change in our workforce’s attitudes and beliefs towards health and safety, starting with the following steps:
While accidents and near misses in the workplace demonstrate room for improvement, they also present an opportunity to learn. In knowing how to identify why an accident (or near miss) happened, organisations are able to prevent it from happening again, and potentially improve processes for the future.
Investigation is key here, and ensuring organisations communicate their findings will prevent other teams or departments from hitting the same bumps, thus reducing risk in the workplace. This step can allow an organisation to fully understand what’s going on in the workplace so you can analyse accidents, develop improvements, identify training needs, and generally improve safe working practices.
Even if an incident does not result in a serious injury, conducting an incident investigation to help determine why an incident happened is imperative to take steps to ensure that it will not reoccur.
Following on from this – keeping records of all first aid treatment, inspections, incident investigations and training activities is vital, as this information can help to identify trends in unsafe conditions or work procedures.
Regularly communicating health and safety procedures and updates in health and safety documentation is also crucial. Communication really is key when it comes to creating a positive health and safety culture, and without it, organisations will find it difficult to have a culture at all!
Most importantly, expert health and safety training is necessary for all employees, especially if there’s a risk for potential injury associated with a particular job. By not providing the correct training for your employees, organisations are not only endangering the safety of their employees but will be held liable for the incident which could have serious consequences.
There are several different training courses that provide staff with a foundation of knowledge for health and safety, teaching them to minimise risk, identify opportunities for process improvement, and gain the knowledge required to promote a health and safety culture, including the NEBOSH National General Certificate, IOSH Managing Safely and RoSPA Qualifications.
Ultimately, cultivating an effective safety culture is an on-going process and is a large commitment on behalf of an entire organisation. However, the effort can have a dramatic result leading not just to a reduction in accidents, but a happier, more productive workforce all round!