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What is a health and safety culture?

As a professional training and consultancy company, we are often asked by our clients and students what a health and safety culture is and how to make one.

Now, before we discuss health and safety culture, we would like you to understand a little bit about creating a culture. As a generalisation, most health and safety systems and cultures rely heavily on antecedents.

What is an antecedent?

Antecedents are the stimulus or event that occurs before a behaviour. This stimulus or event may (or may not) result in the behaviour we want. Work examples could include: goals, policies, procedures, risk assessments and safe systems of work.

Unfortunately, antecedent such as policies, procedures and site rules are the least effective way of influencing behaviour, and as a result, we often don’t get the results we want or were expecting, yet we still rely on them!

You can compromise on anything, (wages, hours of work, colours of walls, cars), but one thing you can’t compromise on is safety. As soon as you take a step back, let something slide or turn a blind eye to a poor working practice, it makes it ten times more difficult to get safety back again.

What makes a positive health and safety culture is highly subjective and will vary from organisation to organisation. One thing we have learnt over the years is that there not a one size fits all when it comes to creating the safety culture you want, but there are some common factors which make a difference and over the forthcoming weeks we shall take a look at some of these.

Defining a health and safety culture is relatively easy; the ingredients which go in to make it happen are a lot more difficult. We will explain why…

A company’s culture can be thought of as the overall attitudes, values and environment of the workplace, and goes beyond the physical aspects of layout, lighting and if it has air conditioning or not! (although these can contribute to how we feel about our workplace and thus can also affect the culture).

The Health and Safety Executive describes a culture as being a combination of our attitudes, values, perceptions, competencies and patterns of behaviour, which is both helpful and unhelpful at the same time.

You may have dozens of staff, contractors and customers, all with different values, attitudes and perceptions, and add to the mix shifting targets of the work force. For example, someone might start a family and thus their previous values might change.

Compromise on everything else, if you want to, but never say yes when you know you should say no; to compromise on safety is to take one step closer to something going wrong, someone or something getting harmed. It is just not worth it.

It all sounds like a complete nightmare, but we can start to develop a true culture by embedding health, safety and environment into the business. We can look at common pitfalls in management and some common ingredients which help to make a successful culture.

Ingredients that can help build a positive culture

We’ll take a look at some leadership styles and how they can help (or hinder), and how you can start to achieve a culture through:

  • Building and promoting a shared Health and Safety Vision
  • Being considerate and responsive
  • Providing support and recognition
  • Promoting fairness and trust
  • Encouraging improvement, innovation and learning

How you involve your staff, contractors and customers

  • Involvement and communications
  • Effective role modelling and models of motivation
  • Embedding robust health safety leadership as a business norm – creating a total safety culture.

What about Ingredients that can hinder?

  • Overuse in health and safety transnational management styles
  • Too much use of process and procedures (antecedents) in trying to control behaviour and outcomes
  • Too much negative reinforcement
  • Cognitive bias that may overtly sway our behaviour
  • Too much Jargon!!

The team at Southwest are always available to give further advice and guidance, should you need it. Call us on +44 (0)1264 874466.

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