Health and safety strategy: Embedding safety into a company’s culture
One of the most effective ways to create a successful health and safety strategy is to make it part of a company’s culture and ethos, rather than it being viewed as an isolated policy. That’s according to Simon Jones, Technical Director of Alcumus HSE.
By ensuring board members and business leaders are pro-active and communicate the health and safety strategy to the wider team, Simon suggests that a culture of safe behaviour will start to develop amongst the workforce. A robust health and safety culture brings with it a whole host of business benefits from both a monetary and reputational perspective.
Simon believes that it is “absolutely essential” to incorporate health and safety into a company’s culture and ethos when creating a company strategy, allowing organisations to have the right behaviours, attitudes and values in place.
He explained that the culture of an organisation is all about how people interact and behave with each another and how they accept each other’s behaviours as being ‘the norm’ within the business.
“Whilst we can have robust processes, systems and equipment in the business. Unless you have the right behaviours and attitudes and safety culture, when interacting with the systems, then the business is perhaps missing part of the health and safety solution.”
Simon also warned that whilst it’s important to keep up with technological advancements, having the ‘softer skills’ and business acumen are essential nowadays for a health and safety practitioner. “The more you rely on legal standards and focusing on what will happen if things go wrong, the less engaging that becomes, not just with senior managers. Social skills are therefore important, in order to engage with the workers and the leadership teams.”
When implementing a change in culture, it’s important to take a step back and look at what the organisation has in place already. Think about the company’s existing position in relation to culture and performance and, what specifically it is that you are trying to change. Understand what the developmental requirements are, when shifting from one area of operation or procedure into another set of perceived norms and values. “I think the way to do that is to engage everyone in the organisation on a set of values that everybody buys into.”
More so than most professionals, health and safety leaders must have an overall understanding that there are benefits to not just the organisation, but to the individuals as well. Recognising that and setting values that everyone agrees with will enable workers to create buy in into the culture more easily.
The next stage is then demonstrating those values through actions and decisions. “A culture develops from the combined experience of the people within the organisation, whether or not it is planned, and whether or not it is the one the organisation says it wants. There is a real danger of an organisation agreeing upon principals, but then leaning towards other priorities at the expense of health and safety. I’m not suggesting that you manage health and safety at the expense of everything else, health and safety should be integrated into all aspects of the business” Simon added.
“In my experience, the more you isolate health and safety, the less ingrained it becomes within the organisation as a whole. If it’s part of the everyday language, then there is much more chance of success.
“Health and safety has an impact on risk, profitability, recruitment and retention, so the health and safety manager has to be across all areas of the business. Business knowledge is therefore important, in order to fully engage at all levels of the organisation.”
The negative perception which can be associated with health and safety, may stem from the language being used. Often, resistance to change in an organisation can be overcome simply by phrasing the point correctly. Telling someone that they can’t perform a task because it’s too dangerous or highlighting something they’ve done wrong can become confrontational, instead suggest ways in which a task could be carried out more safely or effectively. “improving health and safety performance is about being progressive, innovative and supportive, rather than restrictive,” concluded Simon.
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