Promoting a positive culture – a guide to health and safety culture. This guide provides an overview of the principles of a positive safety culture and looks at improving safety culture and behaviour through leadership and worker involvement. It provides some indicators of a positive safety culture and outlines ways of improving safety culture, as well as describing some of the elements needed to develop a positive culture.
The guide includes case studies as examples of how safety cultures can be improved and what can be achieved with a positive safety culture.
It’s now generally recognised that health and safety management should embrace – in a holistic way – the interactions between the working environment, equipment, systems and procedures, and the people in the organisation.
Effective risk management depends partly on the behaviour of individuals in an organisation. A significant number of accidents can be traced to unsafe behaviours. Poorly designed equipment or operations, poor systems and poor working conditions can all encourage unsafe behaviours, but these behaviours are not inevitable. An organisation’s attitudes and values regarding safe working are important factors that influence its approach to work and ultimately its health and safety performance. Put another way, it’s not enough to provide safe equipment, systems and procedures if the culture doesn’t encourage healthy and safe working.
Safety culture has been defined1 as consisting of shared values (what is important) and beliefs (how things work) that interact with an organisation’s structure and control systems to produce behavioural standards (the way we do things round here).
A poor health and safety culture is likely to lead to weaknesses due to problems at the person–work interface – perhaps because of poor training or communication.
A poor culture encourages an atmosphere where not complying with safe working practices is acceptable, and it doesn’t help the organisation to take effective action to solve health and safety problems. Quite often, organisations that have a poor safety culture can have the same underlying attitude to all process and procedures.
This can result in poor product quality and financial control as well as poor health and safety.
The challenge is how to have a positive influence on an organisation’s health and safety culture. It’s hard to change the attitudes and beliefs of a workforce by direct persuasion, but by acting safely workers can start to think safely. This belief has led to the development of ‘behavioural safety’ approaches. Remember that culture often develops slowly, and that fundamental change requires time.
Health and safety professionals must aim to apply current thinking in a practical way to achieve healthier and safer working environments. This IOSH guide offers some pointers to healthier and safer working by describing some aspects of a good health and safety culture and suggesting some steps that you and your organisation can take to improve it.
Although many of the references in this guide concentrate on ‘safety’ rather than ‘health’ cultures, the lessons are equally applicable to issues of workplace health. Indeed, because the links between poor workplace practices and resulting ill health can be less clear and enforceable than those relating to poor safety conditions and resulting injuries, the cultural issues linked to work-related health are arguably even more important than those affecting workplace safety.