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What’s a TRUE Health & Safety Culture?

Culture. It is a word banded about in the H&S world often. But what does it actually mean? We often hear of having a good health and safety culture being pivotal to performance and how to influence, support, include and encourage employees.

Do you have a good culture? How would you measure it? Would I be right in saying many here would say stats, audits, incident reports.

This is a partial approach at best, destined to skew your view of culture and inhibit improvement and I’ll explain why.

All of these are tiny, tiny pieces of a jigsaw that will only tell you one thing. How we look on paper.

An audit in many cases is carried out as a desktop exercise (it shouldn’t be).

So, We have a policy in place for bullying, we hold inclusive briefings, we have an ISO, we ensure our management are involved in reviews of our performance every year including in reflection as well as setting news objectives…..

That’s great. But it isn’t the answer.

So often I work with companies who genuinely believe they have a great culture. They have a policy that describes an ‘open door’ approach, and a ‘you said, we did’ approach on construction can be popular too. It takes communication to consultation, which is great.

But how often do you also see, that the person that keeps reporting things as a hazard have someone roll their eyes at them, or get labelled the ‘one that is always moaning or whinging? Or someone challenging a risk assessment or a policy, procedure or workplace rule, only to be met with an exasperated person that doesn’t want to explain?

It matters not if the hazards reports are what you perceive as petty, or verging on the ridiculous. It matters not if you feel you have explained WHY we have to wear safety glasses in an area 300 times before. There should never be a ‘because I told you to’ answer.

You have the potential of a great culture right there in your hand. You have asked your workforce to become involved and feed back to you as your eyes and ears. You have asked them to challenge. You have told them you have an open door approach. Do you?

We can write whatever we feel looks good on paper, but the true measure of whether our culture is good or not, is not what our policies say, or being able to put a tick in an accreditation box. It comes from allowing yourself to go to the uncomfortable places. Have you ever come across as a H&S person as though you’re too busy or narked at someone asking for your time? Do you on occasion see them as being a bit of a nuisance.

We cannot say to each other that we are wanting to encourage open dialogue and consultation, and then slam the door (whether metaphorically or actually!). We need to nurture those that are seen as the perpetual reporters of tiny issues, because they’re not ‘perpetual’ they are our golden nuggets. They took time out to tell us. They took the time to tell someone who they thought would listen. We need to reinforce what we say we do, and do it.

Do you ever ask employees how they feel about something? Do you ask for your workforces input on their risk assessment revisions or procedures or do you just hand them a document to follow? What would be the difference in engagement if we did option 1 versus option 2? Someone who feels their say is valid, that receives a safe system of work they have been valued enough by their company to contribute to? Or someone who feels dictated to by someone who knows little about their job or the feasibility of proposed control measures?

One really good, simple, REAL measure of your culture, is in a conference setting, imagine your employee audience not knowing the reason they’ve been asked to attend and just putting one slide up saying ‘HEALTH & SAFETY’

What expression would you expect to see on most people’s face? Would they roll their eyes? Would they look intrigued? Excited? (I mean, we can hope on that one, but let me know if you get there!).

Another, is watching your teams culture if you are in a setting where others around you may not work to the same standards, for example on a construction site. A majority will nearly always lead, even if it takes a little time. If you have your company with its own ‘standards’ and working alongside another contractor that aren’t as interested in good standards, if your good culture isn’t strong, and understood, then your team will start to think ‘what’s the point’, why should we bother? (genuinely, based on my own multiple experiences). If your team uphold their good standards, with little impact of poor standards of others, then you really do have a genuinely good culture.

It is people’s natural, subconscious reactions and habitual behaviour that creates a culture. Their first instinctive course of action. Would they naturally veer towards safe processes, or would they naturally lean more towards ‘no one is watching so we can be more relaxed about that’? That’s culture right there, and it is VITAL to tap into making our practices part of our habitual behaviour to reinforce and uphold a genuinely good culture.

In order for us to work as a team and ensure our habitual behaviour is working, along with willingness, we must treat each other as though we deserve to understand the WHY in what we do. Allow people to be involved, challenge, contribute. Have a deeper understanding of why we have had to do something a certain way.

There will always be that small minority that seem impervious to changing, or understanding, but a minority will either fall by the wayside or lose their battle in a big sea of people doing things the right way.

So when next time assessing your culture, ask yourself:

o Do we really practice what we preach in our policies and not allow the ‘having a policy’ to be the tick in the box

o Do we genuinely allow our workforce a voice, consultation and challenging in the right environment?

o Do we get out there to truly observe people’s reactions and behaviours, that demonstrate their real feelings towards health and safety?

o Do we have a positive majority?

o If you answer honestly, you’ll have the best basis upon which to base your objectives and THEN we can look at the stats with some confidence to know they are a true reflection of our collective approach towards health and safety culture.

Written by: Hayley Tollervey

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