Health and Safety Culture-2022 Hence the safety culture. A phrase that seems to creep into almost any discussion of security these days – the question is do we really know what it means or has it become a rainbow statement with little real value or meaning?
The concept of organizational culture has a long history in psychology, and evidence shows that “culture” will always exist in the workplace—that culture may vary, but we can pick out strong consistent themes in most successful companies. Now for many companies, the culture is different, and how people see the world depends on their status. How many companies struggle with managing to have a slightly different view of one thing and those on the cutting edge?
Culture has many definitions – but in a way, I’ve always liked the simplicity of “the way we do things here”. In a way that sums up everything, we need to know – successful companies are usually based on shared beliefs and broadly shared opinions about how things are done within a company. (Health and Safety Culture) Perhaps the best modern examples are Google and Apple – both have strong messages, brand identities, and company values ?? largely shared throughout the company.
Taking it a step further, we also know that “trust” and behavior are linked – a strong culture requires the two to be aligned so trust in the culture is demonstrated by behavior consistent with the company’s way of doing things.
Historically there has been a belief that if you change beliefs, it will change behavior – effectively train your employees and they will suddenly believe the company’s message and then they will behave in the “required” manner. Unfortunately, this is not really true.
We know that no one can exist when their beliefs don’t match their behavior – something always gives. The problem with trying to inculcate beliefs and values ?? is that the course tends to be deeper rooted than the training itself, and even if the course works and students receive certain messages in the classroom, the real world interferes – pressure to deliver results, pressure from peer groups, conflicting messages from other sources such as the press or within companies. Any gains made will quickly wipe out.
An approach shown to be more effective is to forget about the push concept – (beliefs and behavior will follow) and consider the idea of ?? driving the behavior and pulling the belief back kicking and screaming.
In some ways this is almost a return to old-fashioned values ??- strict supervision has always been about controlling behavior. However, there are other monitoring tools that work – be it productivity wall charts with clear targets, response time targets in call centers, or back-to-key message safety performance inspections.
When groups are monitored and ranked on actual measurable results most of the time people respond by trying to improve – adding bonus payments and boy do they respond.
Now many of the old schemes are based on individual goals – which work for sales – but an interesting point is that when groups are measured and ranked overall, the stronger (or arguably more compliant) members of the group adjust by exerting pressure on their peers. and thus improve scores (and rewards) for the group as a whole.
When “safety culture” first emerged in the 1990s, it was based on similar ideas:
You need a strong set of shared beliefs about safe work
You can monitor behavior on safety indicators – do people wear PPE, do people use guards, do people clean as needed, do people follow rules?
If you can monitor it – you can score it and thus you can set goals
If goals are set and performance is publicly demonstrated, you drive behavior
If you get the behavior where you want it, people’s beliefs must follow (it’s either share the belief, give up, or go crazy – and most people take the first option).
Now it works – just like using goals to drive sales or productivity – you can change behavior and thus beliefs with safety – so effectively you have a concept of safety culture and a way to define that culture within an organization. There are some big buts though:
The company must have all the basics of workplace safety in place – there must be adequate training to work safely, the workplace must be safe, the equipment must be safe and the work must be designed to be done safely.
The company needs good basic security performance and managed effectively.
Senior management and down-through-line managers must share the vision and ensure they are always on message. Shouting safety in a team meeting once a month is important and then spending the next 4 weeks shouting profit at all costs tends to be a mixed message safety is seen as an afterthought – and the monthly message is ignored as lip service.
So safety culture can be practically considered a sub-group of the company’s overall culture – and it can be mastered by a carrot-and-stick approach to workplace behaviors thus beliefs will follow and behaviors will become automatic over time and new employees. Adapt quickly and accept that belief.
Other aspects of security culture programs are designed to “fix” the perception of security breaches. An infringement is when we knowingly do something wrong – speeding on a motorway is a common everyday example (you wouldn’t accidentally drive 100 miles at 80mph). Violations occur for a variety of reasons, but often they have a positive purpose – to save time, increase productivity, fit in with a peer group – or simply exist because the rules are impossible to follow in the real world. But even in this area, you need to get the basics right – you need rules that can be followed, you need rules that fit the needs of the staff/other company and you all need to agree on the standards you aim for.
Brilliant. Ah but
This is where things start to go wrong. Like many things “safety culture” became a buzzword and very quickly became devalued to the point of meaninglessness. In many cases “safety culture” is quoted out of context – just as bad that it is quoted as an entirely positive concept. Ask people to explain what their safety culture is in modern times and a string of words with little substance follows—or rather we forget 40 years of psychology research and stress that safety culture is acquired through training.
The other aspect that has become apparent in recent times and has been criticized, particularly by unions, is that it is being used to move backward in time. That culture’s safety culture and management came to help take companies to the next level with strong safety performance – but without the fundamentals of a safe workplace and strong management, we all knew it was doomed.
Unfortunately, that message seems to have been lost – suddenly it’s everyone’s business with the meaningless mantra of safety (not really… wow… erm but who’s really responsible?) Safety culture is often used to feign insecurity on the shop floor and shift responsibility from management ( move well in the public’s mind if not reality). Unfortunately, it’s an easy sell – we all want security to be someone else’s problem.
Where a company has issues with its security performance, the first question should be the old faithful:
Have you actually got a policy and risk assessment that defines how a job should be done?
Are these rules actually achievable or are they moral and unattainable in the real world
Is the workplace safe, is the equipment safe, have you trained people to do their jobs, and do you supervise them?
Management buys safety as a positive thing and actively manages safety.
Do you actually measure and monitor security?
Often companies jump into safety culture programs based on “safety is everyone’s business” and hope that by doing so they will remove the legal burden. It doesn’t even achieve that, let alone actually change reality.
So before spending time and money on a safety culture program:
Don’t think that safety culture means an entirely positive thing – it’s the values ?? people place on safety in the workplace. Rubbish everywhere, and poor work practices still indicate a safety culture – not the culture you want.
Don’t believe that safety culture programs will fix the fundamentals – the fundamentals come first and will prevent any organizational change in beliefs or behavior.
Make sure your system is realistic and achievable.
Make sure management buys into safety as a positive thing and agrees on the behaviors you want to mold.
Believe that saying everyone’s security is everyone’s business changes the way courts view security responsibility and it will be embarrassing when a claim comes up.
Security is a meaningless statement in everyone’s business. It’s true but it doesn’t matter – by law safety is a management issue and all cultures have leaders – if management doesn’t have the same goals they want to impose on the shop floor then you are pulling both ways and will fail.
Get them right and you might have a chance. But have trouble with the old-fashioned boring bits of safety or think you’re taking responsibility from management to the shop floor and you’re doomed.
Now I know I sound very negative – I’m not – I just see that some value is lost because we fail to understand what the term means and fall back on programs that promise to provide “improvements” that the basics don’t need.
If you’re considering a safety culture program, ask the questions above—and talk to mentors and advisors to see who already discusses what. But the golden rule is always to get the basics right and your culture will follow anyway – but once you get the basics right, cultural change programs will help you take the final steps to better security.