When I first entered the workplace 20-odd years ago, health and safety at work was all about not sneaking a fan heater under your desk to ward off the winter chills or making sure the cable to the overhead projector was securely taped to the floor when you were giving a presentation to avoid it becoming a tripping hazard. But recent years have seen a radical change in society’s approach to workplace safety and today’s organisations are facing an increasingly challenging environment. Not only are there more performance and regulatory requirements than ever before, but organisations’ reach and interactions often extend across the globe, with varying requirements in each region.
And it isn’t only the ‘high risk’ industries that need to tighten their health and safety strategies. With hazards at work coming at us in the form of environmental disaster, terrorism and political unrest, it isn’t just manmade operational risk that needs managing.
How are we currently doing when it comes to workplace safety? In our 2016 Global Perspectives survey of over 8,000 employees from across the globe, we found that 76% of employees said workplace safety is an important focus for their organisation, yet only 58% felt confident that their senior managers never place cost or schedule over safety. This demonstrates that we may say safety is important but in reality it is easy for it to play second fiddle to performance, and this tends to happen when safety isn’t woven into the fabric of the organisation; when it isn’t part of the culture.
Safety has always been part of our employee engagement approach, but recently we have seen it become a strategic focus for many of the organisations we work with it has become very apparent to us that safety culture is about much more than compliance. In fact when we look at engagement as a box ticking exercise it compromises our ability to address the issues we’re working hard to avoid. Our research has shown that three key things need to be addressed if safety is going to become a more strategic focus for organisations:
- Focus less on compliance and more on organisational behaviour
When organisations focus all of their energy on structures, policies, practices and controls they tend to forget the people component of safety culture. The investigation of incidents tends to centre on blame and accountability which makes individuals move into self-preservation mode, so the lessons which could be learned get buried in processes and procedures.
- Leadership must reinforce the importance of safety
When the organisation sets out clear values and priorities in relation to safety but those in positions of power fail to walk the talk, the aim won’t be achievable. Communications and behaviour place emphasis on other priorities over and above safety and reactions reinforce a sense of blame and the importance of compliance at the expense of constructive two way conversation.
- Place priority on safety over results
Whilst safety is almost always a consideration it might not be seen as high a priority as other key demands like customer delivery, punctuality, productivity or profitability. Pushing safety down the priority list can lead to confusion and a lack of focus on doing the right thing.
Like to know more? Read our whitepaper – Beyond compliance: How to create a true sense of safety culture
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