Develop a Lasting Health and Safety Culture

The health and safety culture of an organisation is the way that people manage health and safety in the organisation, their attitudes to health and safety and their perceptions of it.


It is the way that organisations do things; a set of values, perceptions and interactions that make up the whole picture.

The elements of a health and safety culture is the way that organisations do things; a set of values, perceptions and interactions that make up the whole picture.

The leadership team of an organisation has a vital role to play in developing a positive health and safety culture. As they set the tone, their personalities, values and attitudes will affect the whole organisation. Therefore, by its nature a culture in an organisation will probably have existed for some time and will generally be quite resistant to change.

What are the hallmarks of a good health and safety culture?

The best health and safety cultures involve every level of the organisation. They:

instil a strong commitment to health and safety

reduce accidents and ill health

improve the bottom line

are naturally part of the organisation’s way of life

have an atmosphere where everyone wins.

What about your organisation?

We use the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) culture ladder to help organisations identify where they are.

Pathological cultures believe that individuals cause accidents. They implement only what is mandatory, including required checks and audits. Pathological organisations respond to clear regulatory requirements, if enforced, and implement health and safety programs only when they need to so they can avoid prosecution. As individuals are generally blamed for incidents, health and safety management systems are unlikely to be adopted.

Reactive cultures consider health and safety to be important but believe that most problems lie within the lower levels of the workforce. Organisational and individual health and safety management skills are basic and the tools they use are simple.

Calculative cultures value systems for managing health and safety performance and use a large number of tools and training. They focus on tools and analyse metrics rather than the effectiveness of the tool. For example the number of people trained rather than assessing their competence.

Proactive cultures consider health and safety to be a core value. The leadership team and other managers genuinely care for the health and well-being of the staff and contractors. They understand the role of management system failures as primary causes of incidents and have performance targets in place. The organisation uses tools that simplify work processes and support line management as well as the workforce. The focus is on continuous improvement.

Generative cultures realise the benefit of health and safety on their entire operating environment and health and safety is just part of what they do on a daily basis.

So how can you change and then maintain the health and safety culture?

Plan for change – If you want to make lasting changes to the culture within your organisation you need to use a planned approach.

Use senior role models – Employees will look up to the senior people in the organisation as they aspire to become them, therefore leading by example is a key factor in determining the culture of the organisation. Senior people can reinforce the culture by using storytelling to create a history of successful health and safety.

Involve existing employees – It is well known that, if employees are given the opportunity to participate in making decisions that affect their job, they become more actively involved in the work that they do.

Make structural and process changes to fit with the culture that you are trying to create. It will help to embed it more effectively, may reduce paperwork and get better results.

Support the business – Make sure that the culture has the primary goal of supporting the business and making it stronger.

Use your values – Always link health and safety to your company values and strategic objectives – it will increase the likelihood of success.

Embed the health and safety culture from the start – Make sure that job selection criteria reflects the culture that you want. When the new recruit starts work provide them with appropriate training, information and supervision. Provide tailored rewards for good health and safety performance and ensure that health and safety objectives form part of the performance appraisal system.

Use positive reinforcement – talk to people about how they can make the safe way the easiest way – it can make a huge impact.

What gets measured gets done – Track and measure results and make sure that the culture change is data driven.

By identifying where an organisation is on the health and safety culture ladder it can allow organisations to progress, grow and continually improve. Getting the senior management team to “walk the talk”, engaging with employees and getting new recruits on board from the start are the key three ingredients to success.

Our Health and Safety Training section has more information about the courses we offer.

Original article: System Concepts

Is prioritizing safety an inconvenience?