Importance of Safety Culture in the Organization
Importance of Safety Culture in the Organization
The safety culture is a set of practices (ways of doing) and a mindset (ways of thinking) which is widely shared by the members of the organization when it comes to controlling the most significant risks associated with its activities. It is not something which is specific to each individual. Rather, it is a characteristic of a group or of the entire organization. It reflects the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, and values which the employees share in relation to the safety. It reflects the influence of the organizational culture on the ways of doing and ways of thinking which affect safety. It is forged gradually by the interactions between people and it continues to evolve.
In the present day environment, safety in the organization is viewed as the combined result of several factors namely human behaviour (human error and the violation of work procedures and rules), organizational factors such as supervision, work conditions and processes, planning and organizational learning, latent conditions such as the absence or dysfunctional nature of physical and functional barriers to prevent accidents, lack of resources to diminish threats and neutralize events, or the precarious system conditions which make it highly sensitive and unstable. The safety culture approach emerged when certain major events could no longer be explained by individual behaviours alone, and thus it became necessary to understand the part played by the organization.
The term ‘safety culture’ first appeared in the 1987 OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) Nuclear Agency report (INSAG, 1988) on a 1986 Chernobyl disaster. The concept of safety culture has become an interpreting structure and a source for primarily tacitly understanding management of health, security and safety in the organization. Safety culture is a sub-facet of organizational culture, which is strongly assumed to affect members’ attitudes and behaviour in relation to the organization ongoing health and safety performance and safety in general. It is a sub-culture of the organizational culture, which alludes to individual, job, and organizational features that affect and influence health and safety.
Safety culture which is desired is characterized by behaviours aimed to be safe, quality and flexible production. It is always a derivative effect of the collective action of management and employees in the organization. It is itself created and recreated as organizational members repeatedly behave and communicate in ways which seem to them to be ‘natural’, obvious and unquestionable, and as such serve to construct a particular version of risk, danger and safety. The collective effects of safety culture are in providing safety for everyone in the organization and to contribute to the safety in the local and national community.
Safety culture in particular is believed to be a key predictor of organizational safety performance. If the internal values and norms about the safety are strong enough then it can be characterized as the process of ‘value internalization’ which generates the feeling of personal and collective safety and security. The core belief of the strong safety culture is defined by the necessity, practicality and effectiveness of controls. It can be described as a set of attitudes and risk perceptions which make employees believe and trust in safety measures and in competitive performance of their organization.
The concept of safety culture is generally described as a set of shared values, actions, and behaviours which demonstrate a commitment to safety by the individual and collective responsibility of everyone at all levels of an organization. Safety culture is determined by how employees feel, what they do, and the organization’s safety policies and procedures. The extent to which attitudes, behaviours, and policies align to prioritize safety over competing goals indicates the strength of the organizational safety culture. A three part model of safety culture is shown in Fig 1.
Fig 1 Three part model of safety culture
There exist several definitions of the safety culture. As per one definition, it is ‘shared values and beliefs that interact with an organization’s structures and control systems to produce behavioural norms’. In another definition it is ‘the set of beliefs, norms, attitudes, roles, and social and technical practices that are concerned with minimizing the exposure of employees, managers, customers and members of the public to conditions considered dangerous or injurious’. The International Atomic Energy Authority has defined safety culture as, ‘that assembly of characteristics and attitudes in organizations and individuals which establishes that, as an overriding priority, nuclear plant safety issues receive the attention warranted by their significance’. The Confederation of British Industry has defined safety culture as, ‘the ideas and beliefs that all members of the organization share about risk, accidents and ill health’. The Advisory Committee for Safety in Nuclear Installations has defined it as, ‘….the product of individual and group values, attitudes, competencies, and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organization’s health and safety programmes’. Organizations with a positive safety culture are characterized by communications founded on mutual trust, by shared perceptions of the importance of safety, and by confidence in the efficacy of preventative measures.
All the definitions of safety culture are relatively similar in that they can be categorized into a normative beliefs perspective, in so far as each is focused to varying degrees on the way employees think and / or behave in relation to safety. Likewise, these definitions tend to reflect the view that safety culture ‘is’ rather than something that the organization ‘has’. In the former, safety culture is viewed as an emergent property of social groupings, reflecting an ‘interpretative view’, whereas the latter reflects the functionalist view that culture has a pre-determined function. It has been argued that both views are commensurate in that managerial functionalist strategies emerge from interpretative contexts. The safety culture is viewed today as a product emerging from values, attitudes, competencies, patterns of behaviour, etc. As such it reflects both a functionalist view of `culture’ in terms of purpose and an interpretative view in that safety culture is also an emergent property created by social groupings within the workplace, indicating that normative beliefs are both created by, and revealed to, organization members within a dynamic reciprocal relationship.
While an exact definition of a safety culture does not exist, it is primarily considered as a constant commitment to safety and has a high priority in organization. Safety culture is a result of high risk acknowledgement, and a blame-free environment where errors are reported without punishment. At the same time it is a result of expectation of collaboration to seek primary resolutions to vulnerabilities and willingness to direct resources to address safety concerns.
There are three ‘pillars of safety’. They are (i) technical aspects, (ii) safety management system, and (iii) human organizational factors. They, of course, are not independent from one another. The well designed and well maintained facilities, along with clear, applicable rules contribute to safe human activities. In this three-pillar representation, some people place ‘safety culture’ in the ‘human and organizational factors’ category, by focusing the approach on the behaviours of individuals. But the organization’s culture is also directly influenced by the technical aspects and by safety management. In fact, there is a two-way relationship between safety culture and the three ‘pillars of safety’. The safety culture results from the organizational practices in terms of technical safety and management systems. Defective technical systems and rules and procedures which are difficult to apply are perceived as signs that the organization attaches little importance to safety. On the other hand, the organizational safety culture influences the decisions which are made in terms of technical design and rule formulation. The relationship of safety culture with the pillars of safety is shown in Fig 2.
Fig 2 Relationship of safety culture with the pillars of safety
The safety culture of the organization is the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies, and patterns of behaviour which determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, the organizational health and safety management. Organization with a positive safety culture is characterized by communications founded on mutual trust, by shared perceptions of the importance of safety and by confidence in the efficacy of preventive measures.
The cultural approach to managing safety represents an institutional perspective on the organization, emphasizing the informal (alongside the formal) side of the organizational functioning. Thus, safety culture management is concerned with the norms, beliefs, and attitudes surrounding hazards and risks as well as with the practices for handling hazards and risks. Provided that key aspects of the safety culture and the safety climate are considered to consist of issues related to managerial policies, such as safety training, management attitudes toward safety, the effect of safety practices on promotions, the presence and status of safety officers or committee, the behaviour of the line managers, and the priority given to safety by the management, it appears evident that the cultural element of management practices is vital for the achievement of work place safety. Following the realization that poor safety culture was the main factor contributing to the Chernobyl accident, the development of ‘appropriate’ safety culture has become an important area for safety management within different organizations.
The distinction between ‘climate’ and ‘culture’ is significant. The former embraces perceptions, attitudes and beliefs about risk and safety, is typically measured using questionnaires, and provides a ‘snapshot’ of the current state of safety. The latter is more complex and long-lasting, and reflects more fundamental values. The ten important aspects each of the safety climate and the safety culture are given below.
- It is what happens on a day-to-day basis, sort of a snapshot of what is actually happening. It is how employees perceive the organization actually implementing safety on the ground.
- It is how things are being done at all the times and how they are being practiced. It determines whether safety is a major concern for the organization, and whether organizational management really care about safety or it just talks about it.
- It is more of an encouragement, enabling and giving employees the tools and education. It is very much about support for the ability for the employees to perform their work safely.
- It is the shared perceptions of the employees at a given point of time as to the extent hazard identification and injury performance are important to the organization as perceived by their interactions with their line managers.
- It is the environment in which the organization puts its safety culture to work. Like providing the tools and equipment necessary, maybe the resources at the work places to create that environment in which employees are allowed to work safely.
- It is a leading indicator. It reflects how well the espoused safety program is ultimately integrated into the organization to support safe effective practices at the point of operation.
- It is the objective measurement of attitudes and perceptions toward occupational health and safety issues.
- It is a subset of the organizational climate which measures through employees’ perceptions the degree of congruence between the organizational adopted values and policies and enacted practices.
- It is the shared perceptions of the employees about their work environment and, more precisely, about the organizational safety policies.
- It reflects shared perceptions of the relative priority of safety compared to other competing organizational priorities.
- It incorporates the values and norms and beliefs of the organization.
- It is the organizational initiatives, actions, exercises, processes, habits, training and education and relationships, etc., which that pool to establish the core principles and values of the organization.
- It is the overall mindset of what employees think about safety at the work place. It reflects their feeling to be working in a safe organization.
- It is how employees act when they are not being watched.
- It is a subset of the culture of the organization. It represents not necessarily well articulated expressions of how and why things are done within the organization.
- It is the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies, and patterns of behaviour which determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of the organization’s health and safety management. Organization with a positive safety culture is characterized by communications founded on mutual trust, by shared perceptions of the importance of safety and by confidence in the efficacy of preventive measures.
- Shared values (what is important) and beliefs (how things work) which interact with the organizational employees, structures, and control systems to produce behavioural norms (the way the things are being done).
- It reflects the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, and values which the employees share in relation to safety.
- It is the set of beliefs, norms, attitudes, roles, and social and technical practices which are concerned with minimizing the exposure of employees, managers, customers and members of the public to conditions considered dangerous or injurious.
- It is the concept that the organizational beliefs and attitudes, manifested in actions, policies, and procedures, affect its safety performance
Safety culture categories
There are four broad safety culture categories (Fig 3) which can be identified, based on the weight that management and employees assign to safety in their decision-making process. These are (i) fatalistic safety culture, (ii) work place work culture, (iii) bureaucratic safety culture, and (iv) integrated safety culture. Normally, in an organization, a combination of several types of safety cultures can be found, rather than just one.
Fig 3 Categories of safety culture
In a fatalistic safety culture, both management and employees are convinced that it is not possible to influence the level of safety and accidents are perceived as ‘a stroke of bad luck’ or as acts of god.
A work place safety culture occurs when management does not place much importance on safety, but employees at the work place develop their own prudent work practices to protect themselves against the risks associated with their occupation. These practices are perfected and get passed down from one generation to the next generation.
A bureaucratic safety culture is developed when the organization and its managers become responsible for the safety level. It introduces a formal safety system, takes safety into account in investments, and relies on the different echelons of management to pass down orders and ensure they are followed. Safety measures developed in this top-down fashion can conflict with standard work practices within some occupational groups. Employees at the work place can be reticent about implementing the requirements of the formal system or can have trouble doing so.
An integrated safety culture also aims to achieve a high level of safety, but results from the shared conviction within the organization that no single person holds all of the knowledge necessary for ensuring good safety performance. The prevention of major accident hazards needs the combination of a wide range of skills. It needs information to be circulated and evaluated, and the concern for safety is to be reflected in all decisions at all levels as well as in all organizational processes.
One of the most important factors distinguishing a good safety culture from a poor one is whether safety is perceived to be prioritized by all the employees and is also presented as being prioritized by the management and, especially by the top management. Another essential factor for the achievement of a good safety culture is having openness in communications about failures and a ‘creative mistrust’ in the risk control system. This view implies that management is to aim at achieving a culture which is characterized by openness to learning experiences and to the imagination and sharing of potential new dangers, which results in a reflexivity about the working of the whole risk control system.
In order to achieve such a responsible learning culture, the way in which the reporting of failures, accidents, and incidents is handled is of vital importance. A so-called blame culture, where the purpose of collecting incident and accident data is to assign blame and take disciplinary action, is considered to have a considerable negative impact on safety, as it carries with it problems with underreporting. Instead, the objective of safety management is to create a no-blame culture, characterized by mutual trust between managers and employees, and where the reporting of incidents and accidents is encouraged as a means of improving safety without looking to assign blame. The success of a safety culture strongly depends on the degree of trust that those who report errors and near misses have in those who analyze and act on the reports. When managing safety culture, it is therefore important to restrict the blaming to obvious cases of unusual thoughtlessness or recklessness, so that the blaming does not end up limiting the reporting of incidents and accidents and, in turn, the opportunities to learn from it.
A culture is a way of doing things that is shared, taught or copied. Everyone in a particular culture tends to do things in a similar way, which they consider them to be the norm. Hence, the organizational safety culture consists of its shared working practices, its tendency to accept or tolerate risk, how it controls hazards and how it deals with accidents and near misses. Safety culture can also be described as a combination of how employees feel about safety (the safety climate), what they actually do and the policies and procedures the organization has.
A positive safety culture has three key elements namely (i) working practices and rules for effectively controlling hazards, (ii) a positive attitude towards risk management and compliance with the control processes, and (iii) the capacity to learn from accidents, near misses and safety performance indicators and bring about continual improvement.
The organization can develop standard safe working practices which comply with the regulations and best practice. It can also create a positive attitude to compliance by making sure that the managers lead from the front on this. But for these two elements to work effectively, the organization needs to learn from what is happening at the work place. Only by being aware of and analyzing accidents and near misses, it is possible to develop suitable improvements to safe working practices. Organization also needs credible and honest safety inspections and reports so that managers know where they need to concentrate their efforts. It is important to include near misses in this analysis, as some organizations have levels of reported injuries and ill health which are too low to be used as a basis for an improvement plan.
A prerequisite for a positive safety culture is good information. In order for the information to flow, the employees need to be willing to participate and be prepared to report their mistakes, near misses and accidents. This willingness depends on how the organization investigates incidents and how it handles blame. A blame culture, one that looks to blame and punish employees when things go wrong, encourages very little reporting. On the other hand, a completely no-blame culture, one that allows all mistakes or errors to go unpunished, includes those which are reckless or negligent, is not really feasible either, and probably is not acceptable to the management or to individual employees.
Hence, the best safety culture is to be based on a fair allocation of responsibility. In this kind of culture, all but the most reckless health and safety failures can be reported without fear of retribution. The management is to encourage or even reward reporting. For this to happen, there is a necessity to draw a clear line between acceptable and unacceptable, reckless behaviour. It is important that if the blame is to be attributed, this does not undermine the reporting culture. In order to be transparent about attributing blame, some organizations use a substitution test to help decide whether an incident was due to unacceptable or reckless behaviour. In a substitution test, a small group of employees who were not involved in the incident are given information about the incident and what led upto it, and are asked to discuss it. If this group of people decide that they would have done the same as the employee involved in the incident, this can indicate that it is not appropriate to allocate blame. In that case, it is to be better to look at redesigning the process or giving the employees more training. On the other hand, if the test group decides that they would have done things differently, then it is to be considered whether what happened was a deliberate or negligent act, and whether some sort of blame or punishment is appropriate.
One way of identifying where the organization requires improving its health and safety culture is to assess the current safety climate. Safety climate surveys describe the organizational culture using factors such as (i) the degree of leadership in health and safety and the commitment to healthy and safe working that is demonstrated by senior managers (e.g. visibility and close contact with the ‘shop floor’), (ii) how much employees know and communicate about health and safety, how committed they are, and how reliably they attend health and safety training sessions, (iii) the extent to which different levels of the employees are involved in the health and safety improvement process, (iv) the responsibility which employees show for their own and other employees’ health and safety, (v) the degree of tolerance of risk taking behaviour, (vi) how well good health and safety performance is measured and reinforced, and (vii) the arrangements for periodic reviews of health and safety culture and for implementing improvement plans.
By looking at the above factors, it is possible to build a picture of the organization and understand how it can improve its health and safety culture. The health and safety climate can also be judged by using questionnaires. Where possible, this kind of self-reported information alongside observations of behaviour and data gathered in workshops and focus groups are to be used, as these provide the richer picture which is needed to understand the underlying reasons behind behaviours. The outputs of these assessments are to be used to (i) raise awareness of health and safety, (ii) judge the organizational present attitudes towards health and safety, (iii) pinpoint areas which need attention, (iv) assess whether the organization is ready for a behavioural safety programme, and (v) provide a baseline against which the progress can be measured. If the management wants to assess the organizational safety culture, it is also necessary to ask the opinion of the employees. The action plan which follows can be focused on the organizational changes, training programmes or behavioural safety, and the survey helps the management to target resources where they are needed.
Health and safety culture change is not achieved quickly, and plans to improve an existing culture are to take into account that it has to be evolved over a long period. A culture change programme is also very unlikely to succeed unless the management is committed to leading the change. If the management tries to change a culture too quickly, then it has to just generate resistance to it. It is true that the direction of a culture often comes from the management, but it is important not to overlook influential employees on the ‘shop floor’. These can be key employees to engage for improving the safety culture.
An important ingredient of plans to promote a positive health and safety culture is ‘organizational learning’, the process of involving employees who learn to change their ways of thinking and acting as a result of sharing experience and addressing shared problems. Mutual trust and confidence between the managers and the employees are needed for a strong health and safety culture to develop, and it is important that the managers at all the levels accept that health and safety is a line management responsibility.
A review of the behaviour modification programmes has shown that change programmes which succeed at one location can fail at another. The factors which increase or decrease the chance of success are required to be identified and can be linked to the existing culture of the organization. There is a ‘maturity’ model for culture which can help the management in choosing and implementing the right behavioural interventions for the organization. Fig 4 shows model for maturity of safety culture in the organization having five levels.
Fig 4 Model for maturity of safety culture
Critical elements of safety culture
The following are the ten thematic categories of safety culture which have been derived based on the safety culture models followed in a cross section of industries, including aviation, nuclear power, health care, maritime, rail, pipeline, construction, oil and gas, steel and mining. Each category is represented by at least two different industry models of safety culture. These categories represent the most critical elements of the safety culture.
Leadership is clearly committed to safety – Since nearly all safety culture models explicitly included some mention of leadership commitment to safety, the importance of leadership in fostering a strong safety culture is clear. Leaders across all layers of an organization are to model safety-first attitudes and behaviours. Employees learn what the accepted practices are in an organization by following the examples set by their leaders.
Open and effective communication exists across the organization – Employees are to feel comfortable communicating to their line managers about safety issues and communicating with their peers when they see unsafe behaviours. If the organization is not communicating the importance of safety and encouraging their employees to speak up about safety, then safety risks are more likely to develop and less likely to be addressed before an accident occurs.
Employees feel personally responsible for safety – Employees who feel personally responsible for safety take more ownership in safety procedures and are also more likely to speak up when they see other employees behaving in an unsafe manner. Personal responsibility empowers employees and helps the entire organization identify and correct risks proactively.
The practices of continuous learning in the organization – A strong safety culture needs a learning-oriented environment which continuously searches for opportunities to improve safety and implements them. Organization is required to learn from accidents when they do happen and also to make changes that can prevent incidents in the future.
The work environment is safety conscious – Maintenance of a strong safety culture also needs constant vigilance and a higher awareness of the importance of safety. Employees are to be encouraged to raise safety concerns and allowed to raise concerns through reporting systems and procedures.
Reporting systems are clearly defined and not used for the employees’ punishment – Organizational management is to ensure that reporting systems and lines of accountability are in place, so safety issues can be promptly identified, fully evaluated, promptly addressed, and corrected commensurate with their significance. Further reporting systems are not used for the punishment of the employees.
Decision making processes to demonstrate that safety is prioritized over competing demands – Organization with a strong safety culture differs from other organizations since the decision-making processes emphasize that safety is prioritized over competing demands. Organization with a strong safety culture consistently chooses safety over performance when faced with the choice of cutting corners to increase performance.
Employees and the organization work to promote mutual trust – One of the cornerstones of any positive organizational culture is trust. Trust among managers, employees’ representatives, government regulators and inspectors can go a long way to support safety by facilitating open and honest communication and minimizing fears of reprisal. Employees who have developed a relationship of trust with their line managers can feel more willing to raise safety concerns in novel situations when they are unsure of how the organization can respond.
The organization responds to safety concerns fairly and consistently – Above and beyond having effective reporting procedures and processes in place, the organization is to respond to safety concerns in a manner that employees perceive as fair, just, and consistent. Employees are to feel free to raise safety concerns without fear of retaliation.
Safety efforts are supported by training and resources – Those who manage and operate the system are to have up-to-date knowledge about the human, technical, organizational, and environmental factors which determine the safety of the system as a whole, and they are to have the tools and equipment to perform their jobs as safely as possible. In addition, the organization is to ensure that the personnel, procedures, and other resources needed to ensure safety are available. Understaffing safety-critical positions or not having formal, written procedures for ensuring safety can be just as detrimental as a lack of physical equipment.
Strategies for building safety culture in the organization
There are three practical strategies which are being adopted by the organizations for building safety culture. These strategies are (i) to work toward being a 100 % reporting culture, (ii) to develop safety awareness with meaningful safety rules, and (iii) to ensure that leaders understand how to consistently act to develop safety culture.
To work toward being a 100 % reporting culture – One reason the organization does not experience high numbers of reports on minor injuries and near-hits is that employees fear subsequent blame and punishment. It is human nature to avoid being blamed and to try to stay out of trouble. For injury prevention, a reporting culture is to be more highly valued than a punishing culture which is quick to administer discipline.
Traditionally, many organizations have focused on reactive discipline rather than on strategies and techniques to increase accurate reporting. Disciplinary procedures are an example of why it is not easy to build a safety culture. Emphasizing discipline over reporting cannot contribute to a better safety culture, since this focus can cause many incidents to go unreported. Under-reporting can improve the safety record, but it does not contribute to a stronger safety culture.
Employees can also hesitate to report near-hits and minor injuries because of the extra time, work and perceived red tape involved. People tend to avoid extra work, especially if employees are not sold on the value of reporting for safety. If the organization does not follow through and respond rapidly to reports, it devalues reporting. Thus, if an organization values reporting, it is to establish and use a system which encourages reporting and appropriate follow-through.
Slogans such as ‘all injuries are preventable’ create a major obstacle to employee reporting. Humans cannot be expected to be error-free. The reasons to avoid this slogan are (i) the focus is downstream (injuries), (ii) it does not prescribe how to improve the safety process, (iii) it can be a feel-good statement for management, (iv) many employees do not believe it, (v) it can make people who report minor injuries feel bad for being an exception to this ‘infallible truth’, (vi) it can lead to under-reporting or even non-reporting of injuries, (vii) it can result in injury management instead of safety management, (viii) it can provide a false image of the safety performance of the work place, (ix) it can reduce risk perceptions, (x) it can hurt morale, (xi) it can reduce employees’ efforts for safety since perfection is outside their control, and (xii) in most cases, it probably is not achievable over time.
A distinction is to be made between believing that all injuries are preventable and repeating it as a slogan. It is acceptable to hold the belief that all injuries are preventable. If the belief inspires the vision of the management to strive for optimal performance, then it can influence positive results. Optimal performance and perfection is not the same thing. Since few employees believe the slogan, and perhaps many in management do not believe it either, the slogan becomes counter-productive.
There are four factors which encourage a reporting culture. These factors are (i) indemnity which means security against disciplinary action as far as practical, (ii) confidentiality which means de-identification on incident reports, (iii) ease of reporting which means that it is to be user friendly and with limited red tape, and (iv) rapid feedback which means follow-up and practical, meaningful feedback to all concerned. If employees under-report or do not report incidents, the organization can be unaware of many exposures and risks which exist. Integrity in reporting allows the organization to solve the issues and be proactive in preventing future exposures and related injuries.
To develop safety awareness with meaningful safety rules – Investigations of many incidents have revealed uncovered multiple causes which have influences on the incidents. Most prominent amongst them is casual and poor communication. There are normally several cultural deficiencies which allow the incidents ro happen. The five well-known cultures which influence the incidents most include (i) a culture of rules, (ii) a culture of blame, (iii) a culture of silos, (iv) a culture of creating pressure for performance, and (v) a risk-blind culture. Though performance is considered to a positive aspect of a culture, it is to be counter-balanced by a risk-aware culture.
In an extreme case, an organization which believes in the culture of rules produces several negative outcomes, such as a deadened sense of risk awareness, a sense of employee dis-empowerment and a culture of blame. In such organization, there are examples of incidents happening because of excess safety rules. If there are too many rules, employees may not even remember them while at work. Further, the focus on rules tends to deaden awareness of risks. Moreover, when accidents occurs in such organization, the aim of accident investigations appears to be to identify which rules has been violated and by whom. The obsession with rules leads to a pronounced tendency to blame. The abundance of safety rules present several problems to such organization. Some of them are described below.
- The organization appears to hold the illusory reliance on rules as a means of averting incidents, and seems to believe that a rule can be developed to cover every conceivable risky situation.
- It is difficult for the organization to communicate all the rules to every employee. It is even more difficult to educate the employees regarding all the rules. When amendment to any rule takes place, the situation becomes even worse.
- The sheer volume of safety rules makes the rules virtually unknowable and impractical in daily use.
- When the rules are too many, they are normally not written in a user-friendly format. They are usually written in convoluted, complex language designed to cover all possible risks. Each rule then read like a piece of legislation. For an employee, it becomes even difficult to interpret. An example is that the rule can use phrases such as ‘use extreme caution’.
- Rules are normally cross-referenced in such a way that even the trainers often do not understand them. The employee sometimes has to refer a large number of rules to select the correct course of action.
- The rules are normally written by people with no practical experience in the topics about which they are writing. As a result, many rules are totally impracticable.
- Based on all of these factors, most employees have little use for the safety rules. They can see no relationship between the content of training for safety rules and actual task performance.
- Also, since the rules are impractical, they are rarely enforced either internally or by safety inspectors.
However, organizational management can recognize symptoms which prevent the organization’s safety rules from providing optimal impact. These symptoms are (i) whether the safety rules are used primarily to protect management, (ii) whether the rules are cumbersome, impractical and not user-friendly, and (iii) whether the organization tends to enforce safety rules mostly after someone is injured. The suggestions for enhancing the effectiveness of the safety rules are that safety rules are to be (i) dynamic, (ii) developed with input from end users, (iii) practical and relevant, (iv) effectively communicated, (v) monitored and enforced, (vi) regularly modified and updated, and continually improved.
To ensure that leaders understand how to consistently act to develop safety culture – In a study on culture and leadership, it has been concluded that culture and leadership are two sides of the same coin in that leaders first create cultures when they create groups and organizations. The bottom-line for leaders is if they do not become conscious of the cultures in which they are imbedded, those cultures manage them. Cultural understanding is desirable for all of us, but it is essential to the leaders if they are to lead. Leaders also embed and transmit culture. The study lists six ‘primary embedding mechanisms’ which create the organizational climate and six ‘secondary articulation and reinforcement mechanisms’.
Primary culture-embedding mechanisms include (i) what leaders systematically pay attention to measure and control, (ii) how leaders react to critical incidents and organizational crises, (iii) observed criteria by which leaders allocate scarce resources, (iv) deliberate role modeling, teaching and coaching, (v) observed criteria by which leaders allocate rewards and status, and (vi) observed criteria by which leaders recruit, select, promote, retire and excommunicate organizational members. Secondary articulation and reinforcement mechanisms are (i) organization design and structure, (ii) organization systems and procedures, (iii) organizational rites and rituals, (iv) design of physical space, facades and buildings, (v) stories, legends and myths about employees and events, and (vi) formal statements of organizational philosophy, values and creed. For developing a safety culture, emphasis is to be given to the primary mechanisms which the leaders systematically pay attention to, measure and control.
Since organizational culture and the resulting safety culture are primarily influenced by the organizational leaders, this strategy is critical. Hence, the organizational leaders need proper advice on the issues related to safety and health. While leaders are often intelligent and well educated, they often do not automatically understand specifically how they can best influence the safety culture. They need guidance on how to best develop the safety culture. In a comprehensive study carried out based a safety climate survey, the most significant finding has been that all other factors on the safety climate scale are influenced by two factors namely (i) management commitment, and (ii) supervisory support. In terms of practical implications, this finding suggests that more emphasis is be made on the role of management commitment and supervisory support among various aspects of accident prevention efforts, considering their substantial influence on other dimensions of safety.
Management commitment is undoubtedly the foundation of safety. Without it, the rest of the agenda for excellence cannot be effective. It is to be real, sustained, determined and believable. It means that the leaders understand safety, believe in it with a passion, and see that their passion is embedded in the organizational culture. Since management commitment is intangible, the issue involves determining the visible manifestation of management commitment. This can be done by the measurement of behaviours and activities. Further, the safety improvement efforts in the organization often do not focus on the most important things. These are not necessarily the physical or system deficiencies which are the easiest to see. Rather, the most important things are the intangible elements which can be difficult to see and measure, such as lack of management commitment, a low level of worker involvement in safety activities and a failure to enforce safety rules. Leaders are to focus on specific behaviours to strengthen safety culture. The leaders are to take the right actions which affect the safety performance of the organization. The key is identifying what leader behaviours have the greatest impact on the journey to establish a strong safety culture.