New Rules of Safety
The New Rules of Safety: Believe it. Or not.
Professor Andrew Sharman explores how organisational culture is created – and diluted – and considers the four key elements that practitioners should consider when seeking to establish a robust culture of care in their workplaces.
It’s been pouring with rain today. That’s another person dead.
After a few days working with clients in Auckland, New Zealand I hopped on a flight across the South Pacific Ocean to the island of Rarotonga, capital of the Cook Islands – a micronation scattered across fifteen palm-fringed white-sand tropical islands – for a bit of R&R. My airport taxi dropped me at Island Rentals where I collected a 125cc automatic scooter, a bit of a downgrade from my usual BMW motorbike at home, but, hey, I was on holiday and this is what they offer.
My three days in paradise were blighted with such constant deluge of rain I wondered whether I’d been caught up in a Scottish Summer. With a quick mental risk assessment I postponed my scooter sightseeing and consoled myself with a glass of the local brew at a bar next door to my lodgings.
At the bar I chatted to my neighbour, a local man by the name of Kavee. I mentioned the rain. Kavee looked at me solemnly. Then declared:“It’s because someone died today.”
In Cook Island Maori culture, heavy rain storms mark deaths. I naively enquired as to whether three days of rain meant three deaths. Kavee confirmed it did indeed, explaining there had been two road accidents and one of natural causes.
Rarotonga’s roads, though tarmac, are riddled with potholes, stray dogs, and adverse cambers as they meander through dense jungle. Despite this, I noticed that none of the locals wore helmets. And, this week, of all the tourists on bikes and scooters, only one had head protection. And that was me.
The Cook Islands have a strong and proud culture. It’s everywhere you go: from local names for places, a propensity for religion, to burying passed family members in the garden in front of one’s home. Cook Islanders believe. And it’s on these Beliefs that culture – whether in the Cooks, or in your organisation – is founded. From here, the Rituals – how we regularly do the things we do, build the culture, whilst Artefacts (the things we utilise to get things done) support our actions, and the Language we use reinforces what we do.
Fresh from working on an organisational culture transformation with a client in New Zealand I let my mind wander. Could it be that culture also develops the other way around? When Kavee explained that the two road accident deaths were tourists, my mind put two and two together. Tourists arrive on the island and see locals riding scooters without helmets. This artefact of local culture encourages a belief that the tourist can do the same. After all, they’re ‘only scooters.’ And the speed limit is ‘only 50.’ But of course the tourists don’t have the experience of riding these roads the way the locals do.
When the rental company clerk asks:“You don’t want a helmet do you?” her language reinforces the belief in the artefact. Twisting the throttle, the tourist hits the road, and witnesses ritualistic behaviours of all riders without helmets, further confirming the belief that they’ll ‘be okay’.
Then it rains. And the potholes, dogs and cambers are harder to see and avoid. The jungle creeps closer to the road edge, spilling its leaves across the blacktop. Meanwhile the tourist dreams of white sands, paradise and snorkelling. And then it’s all over. Again. And again. And again.
In just three days I counted six scooters in ditches and two hire cars fused to palm tree trunks. On a one-road-island whose 32 kilometres can be fully circumnavigated in less than an hour.
How does your organisational culture grow? What happens when new starts, fresh from safety inductions venture out onto the shopfloor and find ‘the locals’ operating in a certain way that seems incongruent with the safety practices they’ve been advised of? How long does it take before those new workers become brave and follow the local rituals, and succumb to the encouragement of local language? Or ditch the artefacts you’ve provided for their personal protection? Do they still believe in safety?
The New Rule of Safety #24: Believe it. Or not.
Culture forms one person at a time. Every action of every person contributes, every day. The psychological beliefs that underpin behaviours are key to the creation of culture – whether your focus is on compliance, commitment, or care. What safety beliefs would you like your workers to have? And how are you encouraging these effectively?
Read more of Andrew’s New Rules of Safety, here.
Professor Andrew Sharman is a consultant to leaders at Apple, BMW, Burberry, IKEA, Heineken, JaguarLandRover, MercedesBenz, Tata, and more, and the co-creator of the world’s only IOSH certificate in Behavioural Safety Leadership, find out more here. Email [email protected] and quote SHP25 to get 25% off your course.
In From Accidents to Zero – the world’s best-selling book on safety culture – Sharman shares more than 80 questions that help leaders drive strategic safety improvement, improve culture and enable excellence. Get your copy of the book with an exclusive 25% discount by using the code SHP25 at www.fromaccidentstozero.com to order your copy now.
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