Excellent safety processes and procedures are important, but alone they aren’t enough to change embedded attitudes, values and beliefs that lurk behind persistent unsafe behaviour in your organisation.

“Accidents were going down, but not quickly enough. We realised that you have to tackle underlying cultural causes. So we got people out of the classroom, away from powerpoint presentations and onto the shop floor, thinking about safety right where they work.”

BAE systems and 'start safe, talk safe, home safe' logos

Ian Smith is Head of Health and Safety at the Global Combat Systems Munitions UK division of BAE Systems where over 2000 staff manufacture dangerous munitions and explosives across five sites.

In his interview, Ian shares specific techniques used to engage their staff in health and safety as part of their ‘Start safe, talk safe, home safe’ programme. Over 95% of trained staff now have weekly conversations and they recorded over 12,000 ‘talk safe’ conversations in just one year.

“We didn’t want staff to think safety is just about HSE compliance and avoiding prosecution. So we involved them by seeing things from their perspective.”

“What’s in it for me?”

That’s one of the questions Ian and his team posed to themselves when planning how to engage their staff. They understood that to bring about lasting culture change, staff need to identify with your health and safety message. And you encourage this through open discussion with them, in a context that’s relevant to everyday life.

“We got staff talking about what they like to do – football, climbing, playing with the kids… and how accidents affect their ability to do those things that they enjoy.”

And a serious incident at one of BAE System’s sites became a valuable chance to bring safety to life, with real people and real consequences:

“We made a film about a member of staff and how his accident affected his life – the pain and the operations, as well as how it affected people who saw the accident, and his friends and family outside of work too.”

More recently, they pioneered role-plays with staff acting out scenarios with professional actors. These are a powerful way to highlight risk in familiar settings with familiar faces, all of which add resonance to your underlying health and safety message.

Once you have people’s attention, you then have the challenge of holding it too. Ian suggests you do that through careful and balanced innovation:

“You’ve always got to be doing something new and different – to keep people engaged, while still reinforcing a health and safety message that’s serious, subtle and memorable, but avoids being patronising at the same time.”

BAE Systems staff at work

Health and safety

Innovation and engagement contribute to the overall success of your culture change programme, and in its maturity is you can extend your reach beyond the scope of safer behaviour to include holistic improvements to the well-being of your staff:

“We run alternative therapy events, combat stress through kickboxing classes and have healthy-eating workshops to bring health and safety to life and make it even more relevant to everyday life.”

By giving people information and involving them in how you deliver culture change, you inspire them to think differently and make healthier and safer choices.

“We’ve made a big impact at work but also at home where hopefully staff spread the same messages about safe behaviour with their partners, children and friends.”

Find out more about how we helped BAE Systems with their culture change »

This article was written by Chris Kenworthy