Safety culture in the workplace and how to improve it
According to the HSE, safety culture can have a significant impact on safety outcomes. Achieving a positive safety culture should be a priority for any business owner who wants to maintain high-quality standards of risk management. Below we’ll discuss what safety culture is, why it’s important and how to improve it in your workplace.
What is meant by safety culture?
Safety culture encompasses the values, perceptions and beliefs of your employees in relation to health and safety in the workplace. The safety culture within your business is heavily influenced by the existing health and safety practices in the company and how they are enforced by the health and safety management. Based on your internal OH&S practices, safety culture can be shaped to be either positive or negative.
Positive safety culture is characterised by a responsible attitude towards health and safety at all levels of the business. It requires the management to have a proactive approach to risk management where reporting risks and hazards is encouraged and the importance of following all OH&S procedures is understood. It’s a great way to build trust and make staff feel safe at work.
Negative safety culture is where workers feel pressured to disregard their own health and safety to hit a performance target, get a bonus or simply out of fear of ridicule. This eventually leads to the failure of the health and safety strategy and accidents at work happen. The approach to managing risks is reactive – problems are only addressed following an incident.
Safety culture doesn’t exist on its own in a vacuum, it is closely related to the overarching business values and objectives, which makes it crucial to the business culture in general.
The 5 Key Elements of Safety Culture
Safety culture is built top to bottom – if you are the head of the business, you start by giving an example and setting the tone for everyone else to follow. There are five main elements that make up and define the type of your safety culture:
- Communication: There has to be an open line of communication between leadership and employees that allows your staff to speak openly about potential risks and hazards in the workplace
- Training: Ensuring your staff has sufficient health and safety training is part of your compliance duties as a business owner and it helps build an understanding across the business as to why health and safety is important and how to maintain it
- Leadership: From the business owner to the team managers and the supervisors within the business – everyone in a leadership role plays a part in building the perception that workers have of health and safety. If you treat it seriously, they will too.
- Reporting: Providing an easy way to report health and safety concerns and then acting upon any issues that have been flagged is key to building a positive safety culture based on mutual trust
- Involvement of workers: When decisions are made about the OH&S policies or what training is needed, it’s best to have your staff involved in the process. It not only gives you valuable insight into issues you may not have known about but it also makes your workers feel appreciated
Investing time and effort into perfecting the main five elements of safety culture is how you achieve positive outcomes and ensure your employees are protected at work.
Why is a culture of safety important?
Every organisation should strive to create a positive safety culture in the workplace. The first and most important reason to do that is that if everyone is invested in safety, fewer people will get hurt. Positive safety culture can help you reduce the number of incidents at the workplace and in some cases – save lives.
From a legal point of view, demonstrating that you have taken all the necessary steps to achieve a positive culture of safety is particularly important to establish your compliance with the relevant health and safety legislation in your industry. It’s the foundation of a successful, proactive risk management strategy.
When your employees feel like their health is valued and that they can speak to their superiors about any concerns that they may have, this creates a better general atmosphere in the workplace. Confidence, trust and open communication can boost the morale of the team, leading to higher job satisfaction and better productivity.
Last but not least, the commercial benefit of investing in your safety culture is that the money you may have to put into training and improving your digital health and safety tools is then compensated by better performance across the board. Also, you protect your business from having to face hefty fines and legal fees if anything goes wrong.
10 tips on how to achieve a positive safety culture
To improve the safety culture in your workplace, you need to follow an H&S strategy built around the 5 core elements of safety culture. Here are 10 tips on how to achieve this in your business for better health and safety across all levels of the business.
- Show commitment
The leaders within the business have to demonstrate commitment to ensuring the health and safety of their staff. From encouraging reporting to organising training and taking preventive action – your workers should be able to see that zero harm is not just a phrase; it’s something you work hard to achieve.
- Provide reporting tools
Many times people are put off by reporting near-miss incidents and hazards that they may have spotted because the reporting process is too time-consuming and too complicated. If you implement an easy-to-use reporting system, your staff may feel more inclined to flag issues.
- Encourage communication
There are many ways to encourage a constructive conversation about safety culture in the workplace. The simplest way to go about it is to acknowledge and praise verbally workers who bring up concerns. Offering financial incentives is also an effective way of motivating people to report potential risks.
- Take action
To achieve a good safety culture, it is important to back up your words with actions. Getting your staff to bring workplace risks to your attention won’t amount to anything if you don’t act upon the information you have received. Furthermore, the lack of action may make your worker feel like their health and safety aren’t important to you.
- Invest in health and safety training
Health and safety training is a necessary part of risk management done right, as it creates awareness of the safety procedures in place and why they are important. Make sure you involve your staff in the planning of such training – it can improve the quality of the training as it could pinpoint areas of improvement.
- Be proactive
Maybe a team member complains about their back hurting or maybe someone mentions in passing a box falling from a height and nearly hitting them – those are all red flags. Be proactive and investigate the underlying issues. Waiting for accidents to happen is dangerous and goes against the principles of positive safety culture.
- Involve your staff in the decision-making
If you strive to build a safety culture where your risk management activities bring tangible value to your workers, you should hear what they have to say before making decisions. People who do the job day in and day out have a unique perspective that allows them to shed light on health and safety hazards or gaps in knowledge that the leadership team may not be aware of.
- Don’t ignore dismissive behaviour
As you praise positive attitudes towards safety, negative attitudes should be addressed too. If someone laughs at a colleague for refusing to skip the health and safety procedures or if a manager dismisses an issue that has been reported, make it clear that this is something that will not be tolerated. Otherwise, you risk engagement in health and safety activities dropping.
- Implement good communication
Updates about health and safety, for example, if a new training course is available or if a risk previously raised has been rectified, should be communicated to all levels of the business promptly and clearly. Inadvertently, this both shows your proactive attitude and raises the awareness of the risk management activities in place.
- Remember mental health is important too
It’s not uncommon to think of health and safety risks as connected to physical dangers in the workplace alone but being in the wrong state of mind can lead to underperformance and dangerous accidents at work. This is why a positive safety culture in the workplace also pays attention to the psychological well-being of the workers.
How can RiskMach help?
RiskMach is an all-in-one risk management software that streamlines all your compliance activities, from conducting PUWER inspections and risk assessments to reporting, managing your risk management activities and storing all risk history safely on the Cloud.
In the context of safety culture, RiskMach acts as a digital tool that enables your workers to log information about risks in seconds, from any device, anywhere in the world. Information about risks is shared instantly and the responsible people in the team are flagged as hazards occur, allowing you to take proactive action faster.
Once the risk has been responded to with the correct controls, everyone involved in the process is notified in real time so everyone knows exactly how things are going and that their safety is being taken care of. In doing so, it completes the information loop and makes a positive safety culture a lot easier to achieve.
Interested? Try the app today!