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What is health and safety culture
Posted by David Cant on February 20, 2009
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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.

About 

David Cant is a Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner with a brain you can pick. Fluent in practical advice. He has a wealth of Industry experience and is the Director of life at Veritas Consulting.

You can find him on - Twitter and Facebook also Linkedin

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