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Safety Culture – Where to Next?

Safety Culture

In 1993 the UK Health and Safety Commission defined safety culture as:

“The safety culture of an organisation is the product of individual and group values, attitudes,Perceptions, competencies, and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organisation’s health and safety management. Organisations with a positive safety culture are characterised by communications founded on mutual trust, by shared perceptions of the importance of safety and by confidence in the efficacy of preventive measures.”

This definition of Safety Culture has been widely accepted in Australia ever since and was recently cited in the SIA’s Core Body of Knowledge publication in October 2014.

However, the effectiveness of ‘safety culture’ within organisations with regards to the reduction of workplace accidents and injuries has continued to come under the spotlight in recent times.

At an event focusing on OHS I attended recently a university professor at RMIT stated that ‘safety culture is not something that exists or is something that prevents accidents, organisations must work on fixing organisational and management procedures – if they act on this they will fix the problem.’

Another professor, Patrick Hudson has a more positive view on safety culture and in a recent virtual seminar for Safe Work Australia he likens organisational culture to a game of snakes and ladders—we can climb up but also slide down.

He outlines the key components in distinguishing if an organisation has a healthy safety culture is whether it is proactive or reactive with regards to its OHS management and its senior leadership.

He also states that ‘climbing the ladder’ is harder that company’s think but the good news is that his never encountered a companies that wants to go down the ladder and if companies do get up to the top everybody benefits.

Peter’s full virtual seminar can be viewed here on the Safe Work Australia website: http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/australian-strategy/vss/pages/patrick-hudson-culture-ladder

My own opinion as an OHS consultant working day in day out with businesses to improve their OHS Management across all levels is that the development of a safety culture is not a quick fix and is certainly a difficult area to focus our efforts on while still offering justifiable value for money for any business within any industry.

Whatever you opinions are on safety culture and its effectiveness within organisations at the moment this is an area where I will be watching with keen interest in the coming year as the debates surrounding the topic continue.

Posted by: Cathal Uniacke – cathal@custodiansafety.com.au