Do you have the elements for managing a safety culture?

As we are all aware good safety management is about preventing injury and saving lives in the workplace, but did you know that it is a vital component of good organisational management as well, that will improve reputation, business success and reduce costs.

Having a health and safety management system is not enough to ensure that personnel work safely, as highlighted in the Baker Report (2007) into the 2005 BP Texas City refinery disaster:

‘A positive safety culture is important for good process safety performance. Absent a healthy safety culture, even the best safety management systems will be largely ineffective in ensuring and sustaining excellent process safety performance’.

The safety culture of any organisation is based on the assumptions, norms, values and beliefs within the organisation and directly influences and impacts on the successful management of occupational health and safety of that organisation.

It is absolutely fundamental for any organisation to achieve continual improvement in safety culture for the leadership of that organisation to have vision and drive; in addition the elements below are required for a robust safety culture:

Visible demonstration of management commitment to safety Dynamic, visible and unambiguous safety leadership by the senior management team.
Communication Type (2-way), style and effectiveness.
Learning organisation The ability of the organisation to self evaluate and apply lessons learned.
Production versus safety Is there an appropriate balance?
Trust within the organisation Between peers and employees and management.
Participation in safety The extent to which staff are involved in safety decision making.
Shared perceptions of safety Extent to which all employees share a common vision of safety.
Health & safety resources Adequate number of competent health and safety staff and time spent on safety.
Industrial relations & job satisfaction Proactive management of staff and HR.
Training Value placed on training and type of training for all management and staff.
Just culture Recognition of proactive contributions to safety and a fair disciplinary system in place within the organisation.

If any of these elements are poor or absent the organisation’s safety culture will be weakened and improvement will not occur, but with the proper application of the safety culture elements above any organisation can improve its safety culture.

Having a procedure is not enough to ensure that the work is being carried out safely, effectively or efficiently on site, although through good general management techniques and demonstrating visible commitment together with the other safety culture elements, we can have a successful safety culture where we can increase productivity, lower costs and improve safety performance.

This piece is based on my MSc research work into safety cultures and the impacts of safety culture on safe behaviours.

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.

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