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Posted by David Cant on February 20, 2009
Breed a Quality Safety Culture
The `safety culture’ of an organisation can be defined as `the way we do things around here’. As such, culture provides a context for action which binds together the different components of an organisational system in the pursuit of corporate goals.
Successful organisations tend to have strong cultures which dominate and permeate the structure and associated systems. Within these organisations nothing is too trivial or too much trouble. Every effort is made by every member to ensure that all activities are done the `right’ way. Thus the prevailing organisational culture serves as a powerful lever in guiding the behaviour of its members in their everyday work.
The more that members repeatedly behave or act in ways that appear to them to be natural, obvious and unquestionable, the more dominant the culture becomes. Although there is a danger that the culture could become static and stagnate, in successful organisations, it tends to be dynamic and take on a life of its own, influencing, and in some cases determining, an organisation’s ongoing strategies and policies. An organisation’s safety culture, therefore, impinges upon and influences most aspects of work activity, affecting both individual and group behaviour at all levels in the workplace.
Unless health and safety is the dominating characteristic of an organisation’s culture, which arguably it should be in high risk industries, safety culture can be viewed as that sub component of organisational culture which alludes to individual, job and organisational features affecting and influencing health and safety.
The prevailing organisational culture therefore will exert a considerable influence on safety.
For example, those organisations that genuinely strive to achieve a quality culture by involving all employees in each step of the process will probably have a greater impact on building a positive safety culture. Organisations that use the idea of a `quality’ culture merely as a marketing device (i.e. achieving BS5750 or IS9000 solely by paper trails) or an excuse for cost- cutting exercises are more likely to ignore safety issues.
In the former, the importance of safety as a performance criterion is likely to be accepted by all and may well be integrated into every aspect of the quality process. In the latter, because safety is more likely to be seen as a `bolt-on extra’, adding to overheads and production costs with little payback, it is likely to be rejected as a business performance indicator.
Finally, a good safety culture, however, is believed to positively impact upon an organisation’s quality, reliability, competitiveness and profitability.
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