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What’s your H&S Culture?

Looking at ‘Health & Safety Culture’ by Yvonne Wynter
“That’s just the way we do things around here.”

For the first time since beginning my role at Trading Safely, last week I witnessed an employee change baled cardboard using the correct safety equipment, yes you guessed right, with safety goggles on! “That’s no big deal” I hear you say, everyone knows how to use the baler safely and that safety goggles are paramount. However, after visiting many stores in a short period of time this is the first time I had actually witnessed it, therefore to me it was a big deal.

Training employees on Health & Safety is a large part of my role and I find the subject of wearing safely goggles debatable and somewhat challenging. Time and time again I hear, “I can’t see through them”, “they are so uncomfortable”, “I don’t want to it’s easier to do it without them”.

Going back to the employee I saw wearing the safety googles correctly, I decided to ask her why she was wearing them, she looked at me oddly and simply answered, “I always wear them, that is just the way we do things around here.” It was then that it occurred to me, she is talking about the company’s Health and Safety Culture and a positive Health and Safety culture at that! I thought to myself, this assistant isn’t waiting around to be injured or lose an eye before taking precautions, she is preventing being injured/ losing an eye in the first place. It made me question, if all the employees in this particular store acted in this way and adopted this way of working, it would be a safe place to work, with perhaps no accidents at all?

Organisations with a positive safety culture are characterised by communications founded on mutual trust, shared perceptions of the importance of safety and by confidence in the efficiency of preventative measures. However, changing the safety culture of an organisation is the difficult part. It’s the product of 1. Individual and group values 2. Attitudes and perceptions 3. Competencies and 4. Commitment to organisational safety objectives. Any safety interventions may fail if the attitudes and the perceptions of safety are not taken into account. It’s clear that a top down approach is paramount to achieving this culture and managers must be seen to be proactive. It’s a well-known fact that unsafe practices create conditions where further unsafe practices may lead to accidents. The organisational failings at management level are removed from the actual time and place of an incident/accident. However, these failings can be a significant contributing factor in the grand scheme of things.

The safety culture of an organisation cannot be quantified or evaluated as a function in absolute terms but benefits to the organisation and their employees cannot be over stated. Therefore, “the way we do things around here” must be embraced by everyone at all levels, then just think, the safe use of the baler will be second nature to all!


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