Creating an extraordinary health and safety culture in your workplace: Mark Newman

November 9th, 2023

On average, each year in the UK 142 people are killed in accidents at work, more than 440,000 workers are injured and 6.3 million work days are lost due to non-fatal workplace injuries.

The figures are sobering but, when it comes to fostering and maintaining high health and safety standards in the workplace, putting effective processes and procedures in place and providing appropriate training to your workforce is only part of the solution.

Good health and safety is also very much about the culture you create and this means changing people’s attitudes by empowering them to play their part in keeping everyone in the workplace safe. This concept is referred to as ‘behavioural safety’ and means encouraging colleagues to think and act differently to ensure that they take care of those around them. It’s about creating a working environment where people stop and take action when they see something unsafe, rather than simply walking past and carrying on with their day.

Therefore, recognising and addressing any unsafe habits and practices that could result in accidents in the workplace is of paramount importance. Such behaviours are often ‘unconscious’ – in other words the individual, or individuals, concerned may not even be aware of them and the risk they pose.

Managers can promote the concept of behavioural safety among their workforce by encouraging people to stop and speak up whenever they feel unsafe, even if they’re unsure whether they’re safe or not. If colleagues see someone or something that’s unsafe, they should feel abler to either speak to the person concerned and/or their supervisor, even if they’ve been able to rectify the issue at the time. Any near misses should be reported and employees should be encouraged to look out for, and care for, workmates who appear distracted, tired or unwell. If someone, no matter who they are, speaks to a colleague about their safety, it’s essential that they listen to their concerns and don’t react in a negative way.

Managers can champion good behavioural safety standards by thanking and supporting colleagues who stop work due to a health and safety concern, even if it proves to be unfounded; investigating accidents and incidents to learn how to prevent them from happening again, rather than to apportion blame; and ensuring that any concerns raised by the workforce are acted on and responded to appropriately. Employees should feel able to highlight any inconsistencies in their management team’s approach or commitment to ensuring that everyone goes homes from work safe and well.

So, what does an extraordinary health and safety culture look like? It’s a working environment where everyone takes care of themselves, rather than relying on others, but, equally, where everyone takes care of one another. It’s about the entire workforce being committed to ensuring that everyone goes home safe every day; that even the smallest injury is deemed unacceptable; and where no-one chooses to walk on by if they see something that appears unsafe.

In a workplace where there’s good behavioural safety, everyone will choose to follow the rules because it’s the right thing to do and no-one will be afraid to speak up about things that concern them. It’s about ensuring everyone remains vigilant and recognises that risks are always present, but understands what those risks are and what they need to do to stay safe.

Central to this approach is the need to get away from the idea that health and safety is someone else’s job and to embed the ‘safety starts with me’ ethos across your entire workforce.

Changing attitudes to health and safety and encouraging people to see that we all have a role to play in keeping everyone safe is the only way to create a strong health and safety culture.

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