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Workplace Safety: It is All About Culture

Anton Guinea, author and international motivational safety speaker talks about safety cultures in this latest article.

Working on Safety CulturesWhat is it that makes one organisation safer than another? What is it about employees that are genuinely focused on their’s and their workmate’s safety? What is it that they do or think that set them apart? Well, from an organisational perspective, those organisations that manage to consistently perform safely, where their employees feel safe at work, work in a safe manner and are solid ambassadors for the safety process have developed a superior safe work culture. Furthermore, and although the results of a safe work culture are reflected at an organisational level, those responsible for culture development are more often than not the employees (aptly supported by quality leadership; the bottom up and top down approach working in conjunction with each other).

Although industries worldwide have been discussing the importance of culture to workplace safety for many years, its importance was further highlighted with the release of the Guide to Best Practice for Safer Construction by Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, the Hon Joe Hockey MP (release date was September 12). The critical focus of the Guide was to “improve the ability of the industry as a whole to deliver safer construction projects” Minister Hockey said. “This guide is a further step to move the industry closer to a culture of safer workplaces through the integration of occupational health and safety into strategic and operational decision making at all stages of construction.”

Given that the development of a safer workplace culture is being supported at such high levels, what is safety culture, and how is it developed in organisations? Culture can be defined as “the attitudes and behaviors that are characteristic of a particular social group or organisation” (Wordweb definition). Culture refers to what employees believe, how they think, how they act and what they perceive is important, amongst other things.

The Bradley Model is a journey model that demonstrates how, over time, organisations can grow through different culture types, where the organisation’s ability to achieve a workplace free of injuries goes from being totally unachievable to very sustainable. The stages of the journey include the dependent stage (where employees are told how to act and how to work – leading to a culture of employee dependence on the employer for safe work processes and initiatives). With effort, the dependent culture can become an independent one, where employees take all the initiative, and focus totally on their own safety, sometimes to the exclusion of their leadership and fellow workers.

The ideal workplace safety culture is one of interdependence, where employees and organisational leaders work collaboratively to both implement and engender an organisational belief system that is built on the premise that ‘no-one gets hurt’ and that ‘injuries and incidents can be prevented’. When an interdependent culture has been created, employees view safety as a critical part of their role, not an adjunct to it, and they see themselves as the driving force behind the safety process. They adopt safe work systems because they want to, not because they have to, or because they are told to.

The question remains then, how can an interdependent culture be created? Put simply, employee engagement, ownership and autonomy (EOA) must be achieved at all organisational levels. Employee engagement starts when organisations and their leaders are involving employees in the safety process, and genuinely invite their feedback, ideas and opinions. Then, not only are opinions and views encouraged, but they are acted upon and implemented into the systems and procedures of the organisation.

Employee ownership is the next stage of culture development, and is achieved when employees are given responsibility for the performance of not only the safety processes and procedures that they have had input into, but also for the performance of the organisation. Employees are given responsibility and accountability for outcomes. With this level of responsibility, employees should be given the autonomy to decide not only how to improve all aspects of their own safety and their own roles, but also how to further improve the organisation’s performance.

Obviously, employee EOA will improve every aspect of any business, but when it comes to safety, it is all about culture.

Thank you Anton.

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

Comments (7)

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  1. John says:

    Anton, what you say seems to make sense and i can only agree. If its not driven by employees based on how they see safety, then there is no chance that culture will change. Attitudes, beliefs, behaviours and caring are a powerful mover into accepting responsibility and accountability.

  2. Anton says:

    John,

    Great points. Culture is about what the employees are thinking, doing and feeling. It is about norms and unwritten rules. The more that employees can latch onto the belief of the importance of safety the better the culture will get.

  3. Charles says:

    It is a lot easier to have a safer work environment if safety in ingrained in the culture.

  4. Mary says:

    Anton, enjoyed your article, developing positive, safe and creative work place culture is a challenge worth pursuing. Any tips on transforming historical bullying culture to one of safety, trust, where everyone has an opportunity to thrive? I am not talking about physical safety here. I am talking about a long standing environment of psychological abuse really it must have originated out of unresolved or unsuccessful resolution of fairly intense conflict. This tension is projected onto new workers, myself included, and certain exisitng workers. It stifles creativity and causes self doubt. Do you have suggestions on ways to create dynamic mutual respect zones in the midst of this?

  5. Marg says:

    Great read Anton, simple and straight to the point. I intend to share the article with some collegues.

  6. yes I also believe the culture of company has great influence on safety practices. I would say the culture of company should have work safe practices. thanks for wonderful ideas

  7. Melissa Littleford says:

    Hey Anton thanks for your informative article with regard to Workplace Safety: It’s all about Culture.
    I believe that a new dawn is approaching when CEOs, Directors, Senior Managers, Managers and Employees will begin to understand the necessity of Workplace Safety as in not just to ‘tick the boxes’ or go through the motions of OHS. The time has arrived for Employers to listen to the front line staff, the time has come for Employers to geniunely consult (not adhoc) with the Employees and value their input.
    The new ‘due dilegence requirements’ in 2012 hopefully will set out to Employers what is needed to ensure a ‘safe and healthy working environment’ (BOTH: physically and psychologically). Surely, by now ALL Employers realise the need to have Anti-Bullying Policy and clear OHS policies and procedures to ensure the safety of ALL EMPLOYEES.

    Kind regards,
    Melissa Littleford.

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