TT Talk - Developing a safety culture
Compliance with regulations and related requirements is a given for all businesses. Failure to comply will place your business in an extremely difficult position, should a serious incident occur. However, adherence with the law should be seen as the baseline in the context of developing a mature safety culture. Furthermore, achieving the minimum may not ultimately be good enough for your business.
Inevitably, there are a range of factors that need to be taken into account in developing an appropriate safety culture for any business. Not least, the underlying environment, including corporate resources and operational throughput, will fundamentally impact the aspirations that drive the business.
As so often, this requires reflection and assessment – preferably a ‘360 degree’ process that takes into consideration your stakeholder universe. Such a comprehensive assessment of the existing safety culture will provide a baseline understanding of the organisation's strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement.
It is crucial that safety issues are adequately considered.
It clearly is not necessary for every similar organisation globally to reach the same conclusions around safety. It is, however, crucial that safety issues are adequately considered, leading to the development of policies and procedures that support a ‘progressive’ or continually improving safety culture. The result will be something tangible, clearly communicated, understood, adopted and appreciated by all stakeholders. So, where might you start?
The first step in implementing safety culture improvements is to secure strong leadership commitment. Leaders must visibly demonstrate their dedication to safety, communicate safety expectations clearly, and allocate resources to support safety initiatives. They should actively participate in safety programs, set measurable safety goals, and hold themselves accountable for safety outcomes.
Leadership is by example, seen to be ‘walking the walk’ and not just ‘talking the talk’. The whole organisation should feel that doing the right thing is the only way to work, and this must be led from the very top. Where the leadership team is seen to take safety seriously and be accessible where safety matters are concerned, then the entire workforce will follow suit.
Workforce involvement and engagement
Actively involve the workforce in shaping the safety culture and driving the improvement process. Encourage participation in safety committees, implement hazard reporting systems and consider suggestion programs. Seek input in decision-making processes related to safety and empower to take ownership of safety initiatives.
Involvement fosters ownership. Ownership of risk at all levels is a key component. Each individual understanding their respective role, exactly what is expected of them and recognising the impact that a safety incident might have on the operation and business, but more importantly their peers, colleagues and friends. An operation where everybody owns the safety of themselves, others and the business will be able to demonstrate a good safety culture.
Establish clear safety policies and procedures
Develop and communicate clear safety policies and procedures that align with regulatory requirements and industry good practices. These should be easily accessible to all the workforce and provide specific instructions for safe work practices, hazard identification, incident reporting, and emergency response.
Effective communication is crucial for building and sustaining a strong safety culture. Establishing communication channels are an adjunct to safety protocols, facilitating exchange of safety-related information, encouraging reporting of hazards and near misses, and promoting open dialogue between management and workforce.
Training and skills development
Provide ongoing training and skill development opportunities for all levels of workforce. This can include safety-specific training, leadership development programs, and specialised training for supervisors and managers to reinforce their role in promoting and maintaining a strong safety culture. Invest in training resources and ensure employees have the knowledge and skills required to perform their work safely.
Provide regular safety training to ensure all the workforce have the knowledge and skills necessary to work safely and recognise potential risks. This is all far beyond simple functional skills training or what is statutorily required.
Create understanding focused on ‘why’ the desired behaviours are important.
Create understanding focused on ‘why’ the desired behaviours are important. An individual who has clarity on how an incident might arise and the potential wider impacts that such an incident might have will likely perform more safely. Training in this context influences an individual’s risk perception, resulting in positive behavioural change. Equally, make time for such training – it should not come second to operational activity.
Safety performance measurement
Following training, the importance of supervision should not be underestimated. Where training is an enabler for safe operations – and may serve regulatory requirements – ensuring that individuals continue to perform every day as expected requires constant monitoring, attention and supervision. A mature safety culture is not something that will follow a two-day training course; it is lived through every shift, all day, every day.
A mature safety culture is… lived through every shift, all day, every day.
Thus, establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure safety performance and track progress toward safety goals. Regularly monitor and analyse safety data, such as incident rates, near miss reports, and safety audits. Use this information to identify areas that require attention, implement targeted improvement strategies, and celebrate successes to sustain momentum.
Continuous improvement, communication and feedback
Foster a culture of continuous improvement by learning from incidents and near misses. Conduct thorough investigations, involving the relevant workforce, to identify root causes and implement corrective actions to prevent recurrence. Share lessons learned across the organisation to enhance safety awareness and promote learning.
Maintain regular communication with the workforce about safety initiatives, updates, and achievements. Encourage feedback and actively respond to it. This two-way communication ensures that safety remains a priority and helps identify emerging safety concerns that may require attention.
Engage with external stakeholders, such as insurers, industry associations, regulatory bodies, and professional networks, to stay informed about emerging safety practices and collaborate on safety initiatives. Share good practices with others and learn from their experiences to enhance safety culture and performance further.
TT will continue to develop this safety culture concept – it is applicable to all types of organisation. Thoughtfully adapting such steps as here to your organisation's specific needs can foster a robust and sustainable safety culture that prioritises the well-being of the entire workforce and ensures a safe working environment. A good safety culture goes beyond mere compliance with regulations and standards; it embodies a collective commitment to prioritising safety, preventing incidents, and promoting well-being.
We gratefully acknowledge collaboration with ICHCA International in developing this edition of TT Talk.
If you would like further information, or have any comments, please email us, or take this opportunity to forward to any others who you may feel would be interested.