However regardless of the management tool implemented, it is crucial organisations accompany it with an authentic cultural change in order to prevent the system becoming a mere paper system incapable of improving the accident figures
Dr. Paul Cummins (MSc, MBA – MD SeaChange, Ltd.)
The globalisation of the economy and the increased concern for occupational health and safety worldwide, has led to an upsurge in the number of national and international systems, drafts, guides and standards, produced by a large number of bodes and institutions from various countries (Fernandez-Muniz et al., 2012). However regardless of the management tool implemented, it is crucial organisations accompany it with an authentic cultural change in order to prevent the system becoming a mere paper system incapable of improving the accident figures (Fernandez-Muniz et al., 2007b). The behaviour of employees is critical for avoiding both material and personal losses and full involvement and support from all levels of the organisation is critical in order for the system to be effective and for objectives to be achieved; therefore it is vital that the policies and procedures the standard entails are connected to the people on the ground. But how do organisations achieve this connection? It is made especially difficult by the fact that H&S has been reduced to compliance and paper-based exercises driven by legislation with minimal management proximity, engagement and prioritisation.
This is a stunningly common problem, and this approach remains reactive, lagging and certainly not world-class in its thinking. And yet organisations continue to invest heavily in the wrong things when it comes to safety. As iterated by Clarke (2010), despite decades of technological advancements in safety systems and equipment, the diminishing return of such investments indicates the need for amplified effort to understand the human contribution to accidents. The reality of traditional approaches and most behaviour-based systems actually creates a disconnect between operators (who are most at risk) and the safety message which has good intentions, but fails to deliver due to a lack of simple, practical communication that results in local ownership and accountability; stimulating a culture of interdependence. As such a major challenge faced by safety professionals and corporate leaders is to build a work culture that facilitates self-accountability for safety (Geller, 2001).
So let’s face it, H&S is not sexy, but it is made even more boring and autocratic in nature in how it is often communicated in organisations. The bigger danger lies in the fact that management actually create a stick for their people to beat them with by taking this approach. When management do engage, operators provide them with lists upon lists of safety concerns; management can’t cope, can’t engage operators in prioritising risk, don’t give adequate feedback, people see no progress and the result is mistrust, hurt and anger that can and does lead to negative groupthink and a resistant culture. In most cases, the majority of people get pulled into this resistant culture and senior management are left scratching their heads wondering why unsafe behaviours leading to near misses and accidents are a reality onsite after so much investment has been made in H&S. So what is the solution? The answer is simpler than expected; with minimal effort and spend, when organisations shift their attention towards effective communication systems, front-line management proximity training and local ownership, a change occurs from the ground up. A sustainable safety culture is allowed to breathe and grow naturally when people trust the message and feel valued in its delivery. For more on how to initiative this approach see ‘People, Power, Progress: Establishing a Sustainable Safety Culture in Organisations’.
Clarke, S. (2010), An integrative model of safety climate: Linking psychological climate and work attitudes to individual safety outcomes using meta-analysis, Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology, vol. 83, pp. 553-578.
Fernandez-Muniz, B., Montes-Peon, J.M., Vazquez-Ordas, C.J. (2012), Occupational risk management under the OHSAS 18001 standard: analysis of perceptions and attitudes of certified firms, Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 24, pp. 36-47.
Fernandez-Muniz, B., Montes-Peon, J.M., Vazquez-Ordas, C.J. (2007b), Safety management system: development and validation of a multidimensional scale, Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries, vol. 20, pp. 52-68.
Geller, S. (2001), Behaviour Based Safety in Industry: Realising the large-scale potential of psychology to promote human welfare, Applied and Preventive Psychology, vol. 10, pp. 87-105.