Safety Culture: The cornerstone of effective organizations

by Kaushal Parikh and Paul Boileau – Many organizations with a comprehensive health and safety program wonder why they are still not performing as well as desired. A good health and safety policy is in place. All policies and procedures are implemented and properly organized in the safety manual. The Joint Health and Safety Committee meets regularly, minutes are posted and workplace inspections are completed per schedule. So why is the program still falling short?

Often, the missing ingredient is a strong safety culture. The features listed above are elements of a strong health and safety program, not of a strong safety culture. Indeed, there are major differences in the make-up of a strong safety culture and a strong health and safety program.

A strong safety culture is an atmosphere within the organization that favours safe behaviour. It must be ingrained in both the formal and informal activities of an organization. It is what happens when nobody is watching. Once employees become proud of their safety performance, they have internalized the importance of being safe. A strong safety culture is strengthened by each employee at every level of the organization.

A Strong Safety Culture Consists of Shared Beliefs, Sound Philosophy and Practices, and Patience.

Shared Beliefs
A strong safety culture requires commitment from the top. Employees must feel that senior management is genuinely committed to working safely as a core value. Safety must not be just “another thing to get done”.

Sound Philosophy and Practices
Beyond the safety program itself, demonstrating a commitment to a healthy and safe workplace includes regularly touring the shop floor, attending safety seminars and including safety as a standing item at all management and employee meetings.

Patience
Changing the way people think and feel about safety is not easy. Internal motivation needs to be instilled to ensure success. Culture change does not take place overnight; it takes years of continuous focus and hard work – a process that, once embraced, brings about lasting change.

A Strong Safety Culture Impacts Reliability, Competitiveness, Quality and Profitability

The impact of safety culture on reliability is indirect, but real and well-documented. It is reported that reliability is enhanced by three to ten times when quality improves as a result of safety culture initiatives. This is because a strong safety culture often means that workarounds and nonstandard maintenance fixes are moved up the priority list for permanent resolution. Staff become motivated as they watch the organization support efforts to address hazardous ‘temporary’ patch jobs which can drag on for months and prove cumbersome for production staff.

Although health and safety has traditionally been viewed as a non-productive expenditure demanded by legislation, studies consistently demonstrate strong correlation between a strong safety culture and profitability. Research has shown that safer and more efficient work methods lead to better quality. In the USA for example; a study done on 626 organizations revealed more efficient work methods after safety culture improvement had a direct impact on quality. Another study form the UK, conducted on the British Steel industry, demonstrated a positive correlation between safety culture improvements and quality as well as productivity.

In Summary: there is strong evidence to indicate that an effective, healthy and safety culture forms an essential element of a sound business strategy with positive effects on key performance indexes elsewhere on the factory floor.


SAFETY CULTURE TRAINING FOR JHSC TEAMS, MANAGERS AND SUPERVISORS

Gain a detailed understanding of the importance of safety culture, what a strong safety culture looks like and how management can help build a positive safety culture.

In this 1 day instructor-led course, participants are taught the tools and best practices for building, measuring and analyzing their organization’s safety culture.

For details visit safetyalliancebc.ca/training