There is no such thing as a separate and distinct safety culture in organisations, but rather, there are organisational culture traits that support positive practices around injury prevention, according to Jennifer Cameron, injury prevention manager for icare workers insurance.
“Turning our attention to injury prevention, it wasn’t until the Chernobyl nuclear incident (1986) and the Piper Alpha disaster (1988) that the concept of ‘safety’ culture really began to gain traction,” she said.
“Culture was a key contributor to both of these significant safety incidents.
“We learnt that if the culture does not support the right behaviours injuries can and do continue regardless of what policies and processes you have on paper.”
Cameron cited James Reason, who identified that an informed culture is a culture that supports safety and possesses four characteristics:
- Reporting: reporting of all incidents allows for transparency with regards to hazards and risk
- Just: reporting incidents without fear of punishment and trust between people at various levels
- Flexible: empowering people with regards to safety, and
- Learning: focussing on continuous improvement.
She observed that having a robust safety management system, as well as an organisational culture that supports safety, are the best defences in reducing risk associated with safety.
“So how do you try to get a read on culture and understand what this might mean for injury prevention at your workplace?” Cameron asked.
There are more robust measures than simply relying on the “vibe” or “smell” of the place, she noted.
“The widely accepted analytical approach to understanding culture is achieved through a culture survey – a survey containing focused questions around the culture traits that we know encourage positive behaviours for injury prevention,” said Cameron, who added that icare has developed a culture survey which asks 27 questions across five domains:
- Guidelines, procedures, resources: are they engaging and do people know about them?
- Communication: is it two-way and effective?
- Leadership: how do they model behaviour and see expectations?
- Reporting: are all incidents reported to allow for transparency?
- Interpersonal relationships: are relationships supportive and respectful?
“Just having a policy or process in place is not enough,” said Cameron.
“What is important is how people understand the policy or process and their perceptions, and ultimately whether they are emotionally attached to it.
“Understanding these perceptions is so important to not only improving safety, but also making sure you have the right culture for your business.”
Cameron said a good approach to culture change initiatives is the onion analogy, in which the outer layers of the onion are the customs and stories.
“What are the customs or practices that you want to instil in your business? What are the stories that you want people to tell about the business?” she asked.
The next layer in the onion contains the systems, followed by the beliefs and attitudes, with values right at the core.
“What are the values of your organisation? But more importantly, how do you bring these values to life and give them meaning?
“It isn’t rocket science: simple changes can make a big difference,” she said.
What is the Safety Institute of Australia?
The Safety Institute of Australia is the national association for the health and safety profession. Their vision is for safe and healthy workers in productive workplaces, and pursue this vision by working to build the skills, knowledge and capability of the health and safety profession, and being a voice for that profession.
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