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May 13, 2010

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SHE 10 – Leading the way

“If you don’t get the leadership right, you may as well go home” – this was the stark message delivered by Professor Neil Budworth, corporate H&S manager at energy company E.ON UK, who was speaking at the Sperian round table on changing the safety culture of an organisation.

“The leaders of an organisation drive everything; they are the ones who set policy, pay the bills and get things going, so unless they are fully engaged, you’ve had it,” Budworth said.

He showed the audience a 17-second video three times to see if they could spot a change in the picture – few could, because the change was very gradual and took place at the edge of the picture. His point translated to the way culture change takes place in an organisation and he stressed that the only way to keep an eye on gradual change is to monitor it.

So what is a health and safety culture? After reading out an extremely long-winded explanation that included individual and group values, attitudes and perceptions, Budworth simplified it by quoting the CBI’s definition: “It is the way we do things round here.”He drew a parallel between a psychological study of monkeys’ persistent behaviour in the 1950s and a modern attempt to change a company’s culture to illustrate how difficult it is, how gradually it happens, and how you need to start from scratch.

 “The hazards are still the same, but what has changed over the years is what people are prepared to tolerate,” explained Budworth. “The foundation of any model of change is the commitment of the senior management. If you don’t get that, you don’t get anything done. To deliver change, you need people who know what they’re doing, you need a structure, and, crucially, you need to engage employees.”

E.ON found that the most important factor in starting to change its safety culture was to change its board reporting system so that each managing director reports on performance or incidents, meaning that health and safety is discussed for around an hour at monthly board meetings.

Secondly, safety is led by line management, supported by functions, and endorsed by the chief executive. Thirdly, the company got people to think about their injury data in a different way – by shocking them, to get them to understand it. Budworth said that, often, safety is a matter of common sense, but people can do stupid things that they don’t realise are dangerous. 

E.ON then looked at the correlation between safety and profitability. “It is no accident that good safety performance and good commercial performance are part of the same discipline,” Budworth said.  A company’s share price will drop if the market loses confidence in its ability to manage the business as a consequence of safety failures.

Budworth noted that there is a fine line between telling people what to do and offending them by doing so. “It is sometimes challenging to get information across in a palatable way,” he observed.

In conclusion, Budworth said: “The bottom line is, if you can’t manage safety, you can’t manage. This is integral to what we do and is driven by our senior management. Going out on site, committing time, to safety and making leadership felt is worth doing. The reality for a manager is that it’s not just what they say but what they do that matters, especially in a crisis.”

So, has it worked for E.ON? “Accidents have decreased and absence from work has also fallen from 12.8 to 9.3 lost days per employee per year, saving the company £9m a year, so yes, it works!”

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14 years ago

These words are so true, management are the main role players, if they do not act the employees just make a mockery of the system. Employees all the time dont bother due to them saying that the manager don’t why must I. With recent interviews with my fellow colleuges,we have discusssed in lenghth that the behaviour of people is utmost importance, the way they act,think is of most important and very crucial.