10 Oct How do you create a safety culture?
Many of our clients ask us this question, however the simple answer is that you can’t! Colin Hewson, Tribe Culture Change Consultant explains why.
Unless you are a startup business, it’s not possible to create a safety culture… as you already have one. Your safety culture is the product of your organisation’s learning over its lifetime.
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 safety management (Cox and Flin 1998)
Put simply, safety culture is ‘the way we do things here’. So, to create something new, you must first develop and improve the culture that you already have.
But what if you don’t know what it is that needs changing in specific terms?
Perhaps it might just be a sense that change is needed, or maybe your customers are driving this need for change, or is something else going on?
Of course, sometimes you know a change is needed because of some challenge in your organisation, such as a significant accident, something that you feel should have been prevented. You may even be proud of your safety performance but worried about how you can maintain it.
You can only address these questions and possibly many more by confronting the reality of where your culture is at this moment in time, and by understanding the different views and perceptions around what makes your company tick. Only then can you unlock opportunities to improve as well as understand any barriers to making these changes.
Is Culture Assessment the answer?
Safety culture is seen as essential for safety, but it is also seen as something that is, to an extent, intangible. By turning to your employees, the people who know what’s really going on, you can take a deep dive into the way your company is working in reality.
At Tribe we have a unique way of assessing an organisation’s culture, using a combination of anonymous company-wide online surveys and more in-depth focus groups. This culture assessment is something we have been formulating for over two years and will give you an honest view of your people’s perceptions around safety and how they believe your health and safety management system is currently working.
This will tell you not only what some of the norms and behavioural rules of your organisation presently are, i.e. your culture, but will also enable you to find out how best to engage your employees in making positive changes.
You will then be able to harness what you have learned about your culture and how it operates and create strategic and operational route maps with specific activities to motivate change. You will also be able to draw on your cultural strengths and change cultural elements that are barriers to your desired change and/or create the new norms and values that you desire.
What does a culture change model look like?
At Tribe, we use a range of 16 statements in our assessment model which allows us to give detailed analysis, feedback and recommendations in five safety related areas across every level of the business, whatever its size:
- Leadership and Organisational Commitment to safety
- Management Behaviours and their effects on safety
- Employee Responsibility for safety
- Engagement in safety improvement
- Safety communication, equipment and resources
We have worked with companies employing in excess of 350,000 people and organisations of just a dozen or so people across just about every sector you can think of. We can also give you a benchmark on where your organisation sits within our basket of around 60 other companies who have been through the Tribe approach.
How often should you repeat the process?
From my experience, I would always encourage organisations to undertake a baseline assessment at the outset to establish a route map for the future and repeat the assessment every 18-24 months to track progress, refocus energy and demonstrate commitment to a wider organisational population.
Creating a positive safety culture is a journey that requires honesty, commitment and hard work. Culture assessment will not only help you at the beginning of your journey but will also allow you to continuously monitor and improve your organisation’s approach to health and safety during your journey and in the future.