Getting the culture right

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A positive safety culture is vital in preventing workplace accidents and ill health, but it can only exist if the employer genuinely involves employees in making decisions about ways of managing the risks.

India is seeing on average three deaths and 11 injuries every day due to accidents in registered factories, according to a recent media report. Staggering as they are, these figures don’t even account for the number of injuries and fatalities among people employed in the unorganised sectors. These alarming figures reiterate the need for integrating health and safety as a core value in organisations. Employers should ensure that everyone actively adheres to health and safety regulations and practices.

Creating a safety culture in an organisation is most appropriate and sustainable way to minimise the risk of hazardous incidents occurring. A positive and inclusive safety culture can make the workplace safer and more productive. Safety culture s defined as the collective acceptable attitudes, values, routine behaviours and beliefs of the management and workforce towards safety and wellbeing in the workplace. In other words, ‘the collective mindset’.

Photograph iStock credit GCShutter

But how does an employer build a safety culture? It begins by everyone in the business recognising that health and safety is a key contributor to the organisation’s success and sustainability.

The employer should then conduct a safety culture survey to find out the workforce’s existing perception of health and safety. In turn, this should reveal the areas of strength – and areas for improvement – from a safety culture perspective. The organisation’s leadership must take the lead in incorporating health and safety into its work culture. They can start by following these steps:

Set clear safety policies and practices
The first step is to frame a clear and comprehensive health and safety policy and set the tone at the very top. This ensures the organisation is making a public commitment to health and safety and sets the direction for employees on how to act safely in every situation.

Organisations should also conduct comprehensive health and safety audits. These involve a systemic review of the entire work system to identify the equipment, work methods and other environmental factors that can lead to health and safety risks and issues.

A thorough health and safety audit will help to identify all the risks and help the employer to develop remedial measures to eliminate or control them. An audit will also enable the organisation to identify the safest ways for employees to act as they go about their daily tasks. Organisations should ensure these safe practices are integrated into their standard operating procedures.

Involve employees in safety culture initiatives
It is not possible to build a safety culture without the active participation and commitment of all employees to making the organisation and its work practices safe and without risks to employee health. The leadership should therefore ensure they involve their employees while planning the health and safety initiatives and ensure that health and safety is integrated into every aspect of the organisation’s planning and decision-making. Building the health and safety competency of all workers, from managers to workers, is also essential in enhancing the safety culture.

This will help bring more insights into the day-to-day work processes and the health and safety hazards and risks they might pose. It will also foster a sense of ownership among employees about following everyday health and safety practices.

Employers should ensure that all workers at all levels have accessible communication channels to report health and safety issues and hazards, voice their concerns and grievances and suggest ways of improving health and safety practices and standards. Ways of achieving this include providing a toll-free telephone number and an email address.

Communication is crucial when building a safety culture
To build a robust safety culture, organisations need to have a communication strategy that consistently emphasises the importance of health and safety. The strategy should focus on making health and safety a key priority for all workers at all levels.

Safety awareness campaigns, safety training and worker induction programmes should be integrated into the communication strategy. The communication campaign should focus on health and safety from the perspective of the employees so that they see the value of following the company’s agreed health and safety practices.

he effectiveness of the communications with staff can be maximised by personalising the information and messaging. Employers should communicate the importance of health and safety to each individual, informing staff of the peresonal benefits of following safety policies and rules – such as avoiding injury and ill health, and therefore being able to stay in work.

Employees should also be told about what they stand to lose if they fail to follow the safety rules, such as being injured, killed or dismissed from the company.

Health and safety audits help bring accountability
It is important to ensure all employees are accountable for their actions if they fail to follow and comply with safety rules and instructions.

A safety culture cannot be created or thrive without managers and workers being held accountable for unsafe or unhealthy actions. Individuals should be formally required to follow the safety rules and be held accountable if they fail to do so. By conducting regular safety audits, employers can ensure that following the agreed safety procedures becomes a natural part of the organisation’s day-to-day operations.

Employers may also wish to make health and safety part of the performance evaluation criteria for all employees. This means considering any hazardous incidents, near misses and instances of failing to comply with safety instructions and rules when evaluating the ongoing performance of all employees.

As well as assessing safety compliance on an individual basis, the adherence of entire departments and teams to the safety rules should also be regularly assessed to ensure that employees are collectively and collaboratively following the agreed safe practices.

Suresh Tanwar, head of audit and consultancy at British Safety Council India.

Building a safety culture is challenging yet rewarding
Building a safety culture in an enterprise is not an easy task. It involves ensuring there is behavioural change among employees. This requires extensive expertise in health and safety management and also experience in change management.

However, when health and safety become an integral part of an organisation’s day-to-day operations, attitudes and behaviours, there are several benefits. It can reduce the likelihood of injuries and fatalities, ensure employees automatically follow the organisation’s safety policies and rules, mitigate the negative impact and losses if safety incidents do unfortunately occur and minimise compliance risks.

Above all, when good health and safety becomes an integral part of an organisation’s everyday processes, culture and behaviours, it creates genuine trust among leaders, employees and contractors. As a result, a safety culture goes a long way in ensuring the long-term sustainability of a business.

Suresh Tanwar is head of audit and consultancy at British Safety Council India.


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