How does safety culture tie in with an HSE management system?

1 December 2019 · SaferMe team

← Blog Home

In my previous article I discussed the need for the 11 elements of a safety culture to be in place so that a Health, Safety and Environmental Management System (HSE M/S) can operate effectively.  Following that piece I was asked how to apply tangible actions to strengthen the safety culture aspect of a HSE M/S.

With the need of brevity in writing on LinkedIn this article will, I hope, give you some ideas of how an organisation’s HSE M/S can be used to promote safety culture.  This is not meant as a comprehensive explanation, but more of an appetiser.  You will note that there is plenty of scope for cross pollination of the elements and as such the elements shouldn’t be seen as isolated silos of fact, but areas that help guide you in your improvements.

Visible demonstration of management commitment to safety – Dynamic, visible and unambiguous safety leadership by the senior management team.

  • From the initial stages of a safety culture improvement plan the board and the senior management team should develop a clear philosophy with regards their expectations in safety performance. This philosophy should be used to lay the foundations of the desired safety culture.  Expectations should begin with the elements of a safety culture and ensure that a just culture is established from the outset; a culture in which workers feel confident and encouraged to report safety concerns.
  • Is the senior management team leading and participating in safety walkarounds of the worksites and discussing safety with employees on a regular basis.
  • Are senior management seen to take action on safety discussions they have had with employees or give direct feedback to employees with safety concerns?
  • Is there a board member/senior manager nominated as the business HSE champion? This should be someone outside the HSE Team.
  • Is the annual HSE Management System review effective with tangible actions and responsibility being taken by the board and senior managers? Is the resulting annual HSE Plan agreed by the board/senior management and is it SMART?
  • Are HSE reports seen, understood and acknowledged by the board and senior managers – are they taking responsibility for the HSE performance of the business?
  • Do the HSE reports address both agreed and business applicable leading and lagging KPIs?
  • Does the management team need training to support them in their HSE roles and responsibilities?

Communication – Type (2-way), style and effectiveness.

  • Are safety meetings chaired by someone who gets things done?
  • Are there regular safety bulletins?
  • Is there a system of safety recognition in place e.g. awards for tangible improvements?
  • Are HSE reports shared across the organisation so HSE performance can be seen by all?
  • Do shift handovers include HSE?
  • Could handover information be improved – e.g. using logs, written handovers, standardised etc?
  • Do safe systems of work actively engage all those involved in or effected by the work?
  • Is the documentation in use clear and applicable to the work, could it be improved?

Learning organisation – The ability of the organisation to self evaluate and apply lessons learned.

  • Is the incident and investigation process able to identify lessons learned and action findings appropriately. Does the organisation have enough leadership on incident investigations or is it left to the HSE Team to investigate and follow up actions?
  • Does the annual management review included major lessons learned and progress?
  • Is the management of change process robust enough to manage lessons learned from incidents? Is it being used for lessons learned?
  • Are internal audits and inspections viewed as learning opportunities or ‘big brother’ type actions by auditees?
  • Are there opportunities within the organisation for HSE based peer reviews of business units e.g. sharing knowledge and best practice?

Production versus safety – Is there an appropriate balance?

  • Is the organisation aiming to fully integrate HSE e.g. line ownership, procedures rather than generic risk assessments?
  • Is there a system of readiness reviews in place to ensure that all necessary criteria have been met before starting, during and closing down (or other critical stages) of projects or operations?
  • As contracting companies all have different safety cultures prior to starting a project, it would be better if the client were to evaluate the contractor’s and major sub-contractor’s safety culture prior to awarding the contract. If it were found that the contractor’s safety culture was not at a desirable level the client’s project management team could determine the best management approach to maximising the safety performance of the contractor.
  • It may well prove worthwhile for companies to conduct a review of contractors and their main sub-contractors in terms of their HSE M/S, safety culture and safety performance prior to awarding contracts. Once that review has been completed the company could work in partnership with the contractor to establish a HSE M/S as the basis for a safety culture that focuses on areas that can be realistically improved and achieved within the timescales of the of the project.   The Company should be prepared to work in partnership with contractors to implement basic safety management policies and procedures and train the management of the contractor to a level that is acceptable to the company.
  • Are safe systems of work followed correctly?

Trust within the organisation – Between peers and employees and management.

  • Management teams, working in countries with emerging and developing economies, should work on changing safety culture using a top down approach, prior to introducing other schemes of systems such as BBS. It may be particularly applicable in societies that are traditionally hierarchal and/or where autocratic management styles are found.  Here, workers are particularly reluctant to circumvent their supervision or management and are possibly suspicious of reporting on their colleagues.
  • Does the organisation have an open door coaching and mentoring approach to managing work safely?
  • Is the culture within the organisation mature enough to allow departments to carry out safety inspections and assist in improvements to other departments?

Participation in safety – The extent to which staff are involved in safety decision making.

  • Is HSE management within the organisation based on consultation or is safety ‘done to employees’, for example are those involved in the work involved in the risk assessment?
  • Do the HSE Team deliver the safety talks or do management and workers get involved?
  • Is there a system for all to suggest improvements?
  • Are there HSE committees in place that consist of at least 50% of work force elected HSE Representatives from the workforce?
  • Is there a clear ‘stop work’ policy that is understood and adhered to throughout the organisation?
  • Are the workforce supported and trained to be able to participate in safety fully within their role?

Shared perceptions of safety – Extent to which all employees share a common vision of safety.

  • Is the safety psychological contract in place?
  • Could there be more done for a better mutual understanding of agreed HSE expectations within the organisation?
  • Is there initial benchmarking using surveys and reviews, with appropriate KPIs and scorecards being put in place?
  • Companies’ should work in partnership with their contractors to initiate and implement a project HSE MS that can be understood by the workforce within the lifetime of the project.
  • Is there a living HSE M/S that is properly developed, publicised and understood throughout the organisation should be well led by the senior and middle management teams, which could form part of their annual appraisal and job descriptions?

Health & safety resources – Adequate number of competent health and safety staff and time spent on safety.

  • Are the HSE Team properly trained to be able to deliver a customer focused service that adds value to the business?
  • Is there a minimum level of training that HSE personnel should have before appointment and is their CPD maintained?  By employing qualified, competent and proactive HSE Professionals, to advise the management team, there are potentially better opportunities for sustainable safety performance improvements.
  • Your HSE M/S should specifically address the elements and ensure that there are clearly defined roles, responsibility and accountabilities assigned within the system – for example who is responsible for the competency and training matrix? Line or department manager?

Industrial relations & job satisfaction – Proactive management of staff and HR.

  • The management team should also encourage an environment where workers feel confident enough to report concerns or make suggestions for safety improvements (formally or informally); however on some work sites in emerging economies western management personnel should not expect local workers to freely submit ideas or suggestions or circumvent their immediate supervision in schemes such as BBS.
  • It was interesting, during my own research on overseas projects, to find that the workers were sometimes reluctant to take the initiative or address safety issues directly, but would follow rules and instruction given to them by the safety team, their supervision or management.
  • Is HSE used to alter the character of industrial disputes or impose management decisions not necessarily related to HSE?

Training – Value placed on training and type of training for all management and staff.

  • Are they minimum training standards in place and are the budgets in place for personnel to carry out that training?
  • Are the competency matrices in place for all personnel to ensure that they meet the minimum trade and safety training expectations to carry out their job safely?
  • Would the project management team benefit from training in safety culture and a sound understanding of the importance to the organisation in developing a better safety culture?
  • Does the line supervision understand their responsibilities and accountabilities for the day to day safety on the worksite? They should be fully supported by an active and competent HSE team who can coach and intervene as necessary.

Just culture – Recognition of proactive contributions to safety and a fair disciplinary system in place within the organisation.

  • Is there a system in place that supports open and lesson learned based investigation and reporting of incidents and near misses? In that the disciplinary and awards systems allow for full investigation where the root cause and improvement is the goal rather than identifying a scapegoat?
  • Deliberate negligence or circumvention of agreed systems are understood by all within the organisation as not being acceptable and the consequences of such actions are known and uniformly applied throughout the organisation; at all levels.

Article by Alex Shannon

Alex is a chartered safety practitioner (CMIOSH) who is educated to post graduate level (MSc) in occupational health, safety and environmental management; with experience in the international oil and gas sector. Alex’s particular interest is the identification and development of safety cultures through performance analysis and diagnosis.

Alex on LinkedIn

Subscribe below to get future posts from SaferMe

We send out emails once a month. We won't share your email with anyone.


Contact us

  • US  512 846-3011
  • AU  02 5104 6116
  • NZ  09 886 3309
  • EU  +44 20 7193 9657


Copyright SaferMe Limited 2015 - 2023