Introduction to Safety Culture

 

There has been extensive research and study into the area of Safety Culture and how it can affect an organisations safety performance. Professor Patrick Hudson describes safety culture as just one aspect of an organisations culture: 

 

“Who and what we are, what we find important, and how we go about doing things round here." 

 

The concept of safety culture was first introduced as part of the IAEA report on the Chernobyl disaster and it is now generally agreed that “failures arising from the culture of an organisation are the reason why major accidents happen”. (Hudson 2007, p. 698) “The safety culture approach to accident reduction emphasises the role played by social forces with an organisation that act upon its members with respect to safety” (Parker et al. 2000, p. 552). It is also the next logical step for organisations that have been managing risk through technology, systems and processes who wish to continuously improve and looking for new ways to drive incident rates downwards.  

Figure 1: The development line (Hudson 2007, p. 700)

 

The core principle of safety culture is to create a workforce that is intrinsically motivated for safety, the challenge of course, is in achieving this. What motivates workers to strive for a safer workplace and take personal ownership and accountability for their own safety and that of their colleagues? In researching motivation, Hudson found personal motivation often stems from self-interest, or "what’s in it for me?" Hudson also states “Any system to increase motivation for HSE will actually be changing the way people behave so that their behaviour is attributed to intrinsic motivation.” It is however important to note, in getting people to change their behaviours and attitudes, they must want to become what they are changing in to.

 

However, this is only one piece of the puzzle as we know that attitudes, beliefs and behaviours are directly linked to those displayed by management. Extensive research has clearly demonstrated the importance of commitment to safety by top management. Zohar (1980) also found that frequent and open contact between managers and workers was directly related to good safety performance.

 

When considering all of the above factors, it is clear that a ‘good’ safety culture is linked to leadership, communication, motivation and self-interest. The questions remain, how does an organisation pull these concepts together with the goal of building their safety culture and how do we measure which areas are working well and which areas require attention? 

Safety Culture Survey

 

The simplest means of measuring an organisation's Safety Culture is to develop and administer a safety culture survey. The results of the culture survey can then be used as tool to guide future safety and training initiatives and address areas of concern.

 

Our safety culture survey tool is based upon proven models of safety culture and provides links to Hudson’s Safety Culture Ladder. Our approach uses both qualitative and quantitative research instruments to measure the safety culture within your business.

 

This will include use of:

  • A quantitative safety culture survey (Online Survey)

  • A qualitative interview instrument

  • Use of focus groups 

  • A quantitative comparison of the numeric safety performance metrics (finalised at completion of annual survey review).

 

The survey will provide data on culture based around several key areas proven to drive a good safety culture. These are:

  1. Senior leadership

  2. Front-line management

  3. Consultation (Worker participation in decision making)

  4. Training and professional development

  5. Tools and equipment

  6. Work methods

  7. Working on the ground safely

 

The research questions for both the survey and interview will be designed around the framework for understanding the development of organisational safety culture developed by Parker et al. (2006) and customised to fit in with the language style of your business. Our approach looks beyond basic beliefs, and delves into both concrete and abstract aspects of safety culture; the concrete, including systems and processes, while the abstract involves perceptions and beliefs of the workforce. Both these factors will impact on the safety culture and therefore should be viewed holistically when assessing organisational safety culture.

 

Quantitative studies by their very nature, limit the responses to a fixed set of variables, thereby providing simple data that can be easily analysed and presented. On its own however, quantitative data can leave gaps in knowledge or understanding and when considering something as complex as the psychology behind human behaviours and beliefs, this is even more true. Combining the survey instrument with in-depth interviews will allow more direct and probing questions to be answered. The qualitative survey results will help paint a picture of the safety culture and allows us to more fully understand the influencing factors, or the ‘why’ behind the current attitudes and beliefs.

Report and Actions

 

A detailed report of the findings will be provided at the conclusion of the survey. Data will be grouped and presented graphically for simplicity and ease of understanding. The safety culture survey and interview results will provide your business with a holistic snapshot of the culture within your organisation, including but not limited to:

 

  • Perceptions and beliefs around safety i.e. “We talk the talk, but do we walk the walk?”

  • Are the systems and processes we have in place actually making us safer?

  • Contrast between safety beliefs of frontline and office-based staff.

  • Suitability of tools and equipment for the task.

  • Suitability and quality of training workers at levels within the organisation.

  • Effectiveness of your contractor management processes.

  • Safety ‘vs’ productivity – Where do we really stand?

  • Communication of safety information effectiveness.

  • Fair and Just Culture – Are we recognising when things go well?

 

The survey will allow your employees to provide honest and open feedback that they may otherwise not feel comfortable to do. This feedback, specifically from frontline staff, will provide your leaders with an invaluable guide as to where attention needs to focus over the coming 12-18 months in order to continuously improve safety performance. It is recommended that the culture survey be re-administered in 12 months’ time to allow re-assessment of the effectiveness of newly implemented safety initiatives.

Please feel free to contact us here to discuss your Safety Culture needs.