Definition: Safety culture is a set of ways of doing and thinking that is widely shared by the employees of an organization in the context of managing the most significant risks associated with its activities.
WHAT PROMPTED THE INTEREST IN SAFETY CULTURE
In 1986, two major accidents occurred: the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger just after lift-off, and the nuclear accident at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine. In both cases, the analysis revealed that these were organizational (or systemic) accidents: they could not be explained solely by inappropriate behaviors on the part of “sharp-end” workers (front-line staff); rather, they were the result of a gradual accumulation of failures within the organization which had weakened all of the protective barriers, one by one.
The concept of “safety culture” has gained significant ground, both in the academic space and in business and operational applications.
ORGANISATIONAL CULTURE AND SAFETY CULTURE
Large organizations, such as corporations, trade unions, public services, and non-governmental organizations, develop their own culture.
This is called an organizational culture, and it includes:
- Ways of doing that are shared and repeated: organizational structure, rules, and procedures, technical choices, patterns of behaviour… This is the visible part.
- Common ways of thinking: knowledge, beliefs, what is considered implicitly obvious, attitude towards authority, and debates… This is the invisible part; it is more difficult to perceive and the most complex to change.
The safety culture reflects the influence that the organizational culture has on matters relating to risk management.
Several factors influence the long-term viability of a company: the quality of its products or services, the market and competition, its finances, regulations, its technical choices… and of course safety. But safety should not be placed in a “bubble” separate from the other factors at play: the safest company would be one at a complete standstill!
Deciding on compromises and trade-offs between cost, lead times, quality, and safety is a core part of the job of not only managers and executives but also all other company employees.
MANAGING THE MOST SIGNIFICANT RISKS
Organizations can face several types of risks: minor incidents, serious or fatal occupational accidents, or major events that can result in a large number of victims and affect the facility or even the environment.
The priority, in the safety culture approach, is to manage the most significant risks associated with the organization’s activities.
It is important to note that prevention actions are not the same for these different risk categories (minor accidents, serious or major accidents): organizational failure generally plays a much greater role in serious than minor accidents (see above). In practice, the occurrence of a serious event usually implies that there has been a systemic failure involving a large number of barriers.
SAFETY CULTURE – THE 3 PILLARS
Improving the safety culture requires an integrated approach to safety through coherent actions in three areas:
- Technical aspects;
- Safety management systems and functions; and
- Human and organizational factors.
AND THE CRITICAL PIECE
The approach to safety MUST include a thorough integration of these 3 pillars, particularly that of Human and Organisational factors – because people are what determine the success or failure of both technical aspects and the management systems.
At iCARE, we’ve been evolving safety culture strategies for many years and as a result, understand what’s needed to really align safety culture the way it should be. If you’d like to chat, we’re happy to have a free consultation with you, just message us HERE