Informa Markets

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March 27, 2014

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Safety culture webinar – your questions answered

Barbour recently hosted a fascinating safety culture webinar, with Paul Bizzell from Ryder Marsh at the helm. The event produced a plethora of fascinating questions, both during after the event. Here, Paul has cherry-picked a few and responded with his thoughts.

Can you promote a positive safety culture and enforce discipline for staff who create H&S issues?

You can enforce discipline, perhaps at the risk of low morale, but even the HSE admit you can’t enforce a culture.  I’d refer you to Dr Marsh’s SHP article on creating Safety Taboos in SHP, for a fuller discussion on this but in a nutshell you can only promote clear simple rules where everyone can see the benefit to themselves in complying.

Belief is ‘proposition or premise that you hold true, but for which there is no proof’. If the proposition or premise can be proven then it is a fact not a belief. But what is accepted  ‘proof’?
Very good question, I’d say that varies from culture-to-culture. From a scientific point of view a proof depends on designing an experiment where you get repeatable results and offering that for review by peers.  However that’s always done in the context of what’s known at the time and hence what is an acceptable proof at one point can be shown to be flawed later on when new facts or information come to light.  My belief, is that it’s best to avoid the search for perfection be the enemy of progress. In other words some improvement based on a hunch is better than none due to lack of absolute proof!

What role does marketing communications play in driving a positive safety culture within the workplace and what are the current issues and barriers communications are currently facing? What needs to change?

I often say to people involved in an improvement process that they must remember to blow their own trumpet and report what they are doing, if they don’t then no one else will and in the worst case others will make things up! So it’s very important. It’s also important that the messages are genuinely positive. The biggest barrier is that people like to receive information in different ways (visual, aural, written) and people have a different propensity to communicate (from overloading to near silence).  What we tend to do is communicate with the frequency and in the style we prefer and assume this is right for all the target audience. Unfortunately more often than not we’re wrong! Just because we’ve transmitted we can’t assume that the message has either been heard or interpreted as we intended. What needs to change is an acceptance of that and more emphasis put on matching the needs of the individual members of the audience with the actual communication of the message. 

Do you believe health and safety should be a separate operational activity or whether a better culture is demonstrated when H&S is just part of the business along with HR, finance etc. 

Thanks, this in part inspired by a blog that I recently wrote for this website. I think it sits perfectly alongside other functions which support line managers doing their job.  Whether that’s Safety, HR, budgetary control, legal, quality or environmental management.

In the highest performing organisations the professional is there to support line management doing their job rather than being the person that the responsibility gets dumped on.  If you find that surprising, then ask yourself if there were a serious incident who’s door would the HSE, Environment Agency, FCA or Police knock on first. I’d venture the relevant discipline professional would be after the most senior manager on site.

Have you found any difference in improving the ‘health’ culture within an organisation, where benefits are less tangible than ‘safety’ culture?

The main difference is the driver.  With safety this tends to be compliance and the avoidance of immediate harm/litigation. With health the main driver tends to be Improvement and as you say, avoidance of longer term effects.  

How do you engage your senior managers and lead by example

It’s a sales job. You need to persuade them that it’s their responsibility (the law is clear on this!) and be clear about what’s in it for them. That may differ from person to person, the Finance Director and Production Director may have different objectives in their personal plans. It’s imperative that they understand the level of commitment they show is the MAXIMUM that anyone else is likely to exhibit. 

In your experience how can you persuade management to alter their stance when it comes to prioritising between business critical and worker safety?

How they make that call will depend on their assessment of factors they consider relevant and how much weight they give to them. A general approach to this is that you need to get them thinking rationally so provide data to back up your proposition and ask questions whilst you’re making your pitch to encourage dialogue and hence their ownership of a solution you arrive at together and also to get the analytical part of the brain fired up.  


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