Dr Darren Wishart
While organisations aim to become leaders in their field, achieve suitable profit and increase market share in order to be successful within a global business environment, ensuring the safety of workers continues to be a key priority and at times a challenge. A primary process to increase safety across any organisation is to adopt comprehensive risk management approaches to mitigate hazards and risk along with complying with various legislative requirements. A comprehensive and well developed risk management approach to addressing safety concerns ensures a standardised process of work and contributes to the development of an organisation’s safety culture.
Safety culture within an organisational context is often referred to as the shared beliefs, values and norms and ideas relating to safety (Guldenmund, 2000) and is viewed as absolutely crucial to defining the way in which safety is presented and integrated within an organisation’s processes, management and employees’ work. In simple terms safety culture can be referred to as “the way we do things around here” and can be both positive and negative towards safety. A safety culture of complacency within an organisational setting can result in disaster. Although aspects of safety culture are somewhat complex, history has demonstrated time and time again through learnings associated with disasters (e.g. refer to APA Group webinar), that safety culture is an extremely important contributing factor to the prevention of existence of workplace safety incidents.
Although safety culture exists within organisations, it should be noted that safety culture can differ between groups or sections even within the same organisation. Consequently, differences in safety culture may even effect safety differently depending on the type of work activity. For example, within many organisational settings high levels of safety culture may exist within groups that undertake work in what are considered to be high risk environments. However, previous research has suggested that driving for work may not be considered as high risk as other core business activities, despite evidence consistently demonstrating otherwise (Wishart 2015; Wishart & Rowland, 2010).
- Ask yourself, within your own organisation what is the safety culture like in regard to work driving safety?
- Do management and employees within your organisation share the same values, beliefs and norms associated with driving for work as other aspects of work and safety?
- If safety culture differs within your organisation, why?
To answer these questions, we need to consider the many aspects and influences related to safety culture. The diagram below shows numerous influences that can impact upon the safety culture within an organisational context and may assist in identifying gaps that exist within your own organisation such as;
National Culture- the national culture where an organisation operates can affect safety culture. For example, one aspect of the Australian culture “she’ll be right mate” can impact upon and organisation’s safety culture by contributing to a sense of complacency.
Organisational Environment – the organisational environment and type of work undertaken can influence safety culture. For example, the manner in which type of leadership and management can influence safety culture positively or negatively.
Business Environment- the business environment and the current situation associated with coronavirus is an example of the way in which the business environment influences safety culture.
Work & Technology- within the road and vehicle safety area, technology associated with new and old vehicles are examples along with the type of work. Previously, it was highlighted that within an organisational setting some work processes are viewed as more dangerous than others.
Organisational History- the organisational history and whether safety has been highly valued or the historical crash and incident records can impact upon safety culture. For example, increases in safety culture can be shown following a major
Regulatory Environment- within various organisational operations particular legislation applies to increase safety in the workplace.
Political Environment- politics and power associated with organisational politics can have beneficial or adverse effects
Worker Characteristics – finally particular aspects associated with worker characteristics can impact upon an organisation’s safety culture. For example, one aspect of worker characteristics can be attributed to personality and whether a person seeks out high risk or possesses high levels of sensation seeking.
How is it safety culture measured?
So given that safety culture is an important aspect associated with risk, crashes and workplace safety incidents, how does one go ab out measuring an organisation’s safety culture. There exists a variety of tools that can assist in measuring safety culture and this can be particularly relevant if an organisation implements strategies for improvement or change. Methods used to determine the level of safety culture can include;
Questionnaires- various valid and reliable measures are available and are particular measurement scales are used by organisational psychologists to assist organisations utilised
Observations- audits and observations of actual work processes can provide insight into the manner in which tasks are undertaken
Interviews- with key personnel can provide an indication of the ways in which safety is valued within the organisation
Focus groups- are a particularly effective way of obtaining insight into the safety culture of particular geographical locations depots and different work groups
Artifacts- evidence associated with work settings, processes machinery and tools are also a factor that can assist in determining the level of safety culture within an organisation. For example, in work driving safety whether company provided vehicles are well looked after by employees can indicate values relating to safety.
Given safety culture has been well established as an influential factor on the frequency and severity of incidents in both general work safety and work driving safety, what are the practical implications of safety culture in the organisational setting.
Consider establishing annual safety culture measures adopting the above-mentioned processes along with engaging third-party experts to assist in the diagnosis and analysis. It is always interesting what a third-party external expert can uncover.
Identify differing levels of safety culture within various components within the organisation, particularly if one area of the business appears to be experiencing higher frequencies of incidents or severity of incidents.
Ensure management lead by example and remain visible putting their own safety processes, activities and performance on display for all staff as evidence as to the high value managers and leaders place on safety.
Finally, explore research and evaluation opportunities to explore aspects of safety culture within your organisation as a means of progressing toward continuous improvement and adapting to change.