An organisation’s Safety Culture is the attitudes, values, and beliefs that people in that organisation have in common about workplace health and safety. A truly positive Safety Culture is more than ‘it’s the way we do things around here’. It’s a belief that everyone in the organisation has value, responsibility, and is an agent of positive change.
A toxic Safety Culture is when there is a disconnect between the stated rules and the actual behaviours of the employees.
In this eBook, we cover the tools used to develop a positive culture rather than the prescriptive requirements of safety.
Developing a positive Safety Culture is more than motivating people through the ‘carrot and the stick’ method. These types of external motivators lose their effectiveness over time and their message fades. Social rewards have a better outcome in adopting change. Rewarding behaviour not on results, but based on how the Organisational Vision was implemented, makes lasting change.
The Organisational Vision is central to a positive Safety Culture. The Vision has three components:
- This is the reason why you are pursing a positive Safety Culture. This could be something as simple as ‘to ensure all employees suffer no harm while at work, physical or otherwise, and reduce our impact on the environment.’ This generally won’t change over time, but can be refined.
- This is your safety goals or what needs to be achieved over the next five to eight years. Think measurable outcomes. Think BIG, and think of success.
- Core Values. These are what is important to you and your organisation. They are the behaviours that your organisation lives, breathes, and displays every day. Core Values commonly aligned with safety include: autonomy, ownership, collaboration, mindfulness, fairness, participation, diversity, justice, and open communication.
The Purpose can be developed in isolation or in consultation with others. However, the Mission and Core Values need to be developed by all those in your organisation. This provides buy-in to all those that participate, and inclusion (which can also be a Core Value).
The Core Values that are adopted need to reflect in the organisational Safety Policy. The Safety Policy is the over-arching document that needs to be developed in consultation with all those that it affects.
Once the Core Values have been decided and the Safety Policy reflects them, the Core Values need to be communicated. Common ways to communicate these include: safety policy statements, safety posters, toolbox talks, ‘walk arounds’ by leaders with regular staff, and other accepted means of organisational communication.
These Core Values need to be communicated and demonstrated through leadership, at all levels, in a way that engages people and promotes participation. Leadership, when it comes to developing a Safety Culture, starts at the top, but is implemented at all levels throughout the organisation — from the CEO through to the clerk, the first year apprentice, the receptionist, middle management, and the truck driver. There is no more ‘us and them’ when it comes to safety. We all have ownership and we all have responsibility.
Everyone in the organisation has accountability when it comes to safety, and this relates back to the Purpose. The Purpose is the reason — why we have a Safety Culture. It is the reason, as a collective, we have certain expectations and accountability of each other, in relation to our Safety Culture. The expectations and accountability we have of each other provide the motivation and the belief in a positive Safety Culture. This phenomenon is called the Pygmalion Effect, where higher expectations lead to increased performance. This belief in your organisational Core Values now drives our individual and collective organisational safety performance.
Further, people match the actions of others in an attempt to display correct behaviour for a given situation. This is called ‘Social Proof’. If a new employee is observing safe behaviour throughout your organisation, to fit in they will adopt safe behaviour. This is the true power of ‘Social Proof’.
Empower the people in your organisation by giving them the tools to report on safety issues as soon as an issue occurs, and follow up. Provide timely feedback on the reported issues and what is being done about it.
Finally, we all need to act in a way that motivates and inspires others to adopt and demonstrate the Core Values that underpin our organisational Safety Culture, because Core Values drive people and people drive Safety Culture.