August 14, 2019

Building a health and safety culture

People are the most important asset in any organisation and ensuring everyone gets home healthy and safe at the end of each day is paramount. In order to do this, it is vital that every organisation is committed to building a health and safety culture that reinforces health and safety is everyone’s responsibility. Achieving this type of culture isn’t determined by a single factor and it requires a combination of strong leadership, a supportive environment and positive behaviour.

An organisation’s health and safety culture starts with its leaders. Their words and actions create the framework of acceptable behaviour and form the foundation of an organisation’s culture. Leading by example and considering health and safety in business planning and decision-making sets clear expectations for the rest of the organisation. Leaders have the opportunity to introduce organisational KPIs and measures that can drive the correct culture, and by ensuring they are complementary to financial measures, illustrate the organisation’s commitment to, and value of, health and safety.

Leaders also carry the responsibility of ensuring the workplace environment supports a positive health and safety culture. They need to be fair, reasonable, and consistent in responding to health and safety events, and also recognise and encourage behaviour that promotes safety.

Organisations that are committed to creating a positive health and safety culture surround their employees with an environment that supports safety-conscious decision making. This environment involves having the right physical setting and equipment to get the job done safely, and supports this with strong policies and well-considered procedures.

Policies and procedures should clearly outline what is required from employees, how they will be monitored and what the consequences are if policies aren’t followed. These policies and procedures should also be monitored, reviewed, and refined on an ongoing basis to ensure they continue to be fit-for-purpose. These measures will create an environment in which everyone understands what is required, ensuring that health and safety becomes part of the organisation’s fabric.

Strong leadership with the right environment can only take an organisation so far in creating an effective health and safety culture. These two factors need to be reinforced by the right behaviour across all levels of the organisation. ‘Behaviour’ means taking ownership and accountability of individual actions and the actions observed in others.

Workers can become complacent, as health and safety isn’t always at the forefront of an employee’s mind when completing daily tasks. Therefore, worker engagement is an important part of establishing a positive health and safety culture. Encouraging staff to use their experience and expertise to identify problems, and be involved in the solution and shaping of policies and procedures raises the awareness of hazards and improves the chances of policies being adopted.

Employees also need to be kept up-to-date, encouraged to adhere to company policies, and seek to fill any gaps in their understanding. Management should ask staff to speak openly about health and safety, and provide ongoing opportunities for them to raise any concerns and provide feedback.

Building a Health and Safety culture takes time and effort, but by focusing on leadership, environment, and behaviour it is achievable and worthwhile.

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