Fish swimming behind a leader
There’s a misconception that safety is only about people on the shop floor. And with a huge workforce over multiple sites it can be too difficult a challenge to initiate change lower down your organisation’s hierarchy.

“The more people you engage at the top, the better. If you don’t get leaders involved first, safety culture change just won’t work.”

Sue Capper is former behavioural safety manager at Northern Foods’ twenty three manufacturing and distribution sites. There she championed a successful programme that adapted and thrived in the diverse safety culture of a multi-site business.

Engagement is about making sure people know what to expect… being clear about responsibilities and who owns what.”

Clear responsibility

People are more driven if they have a clear vision of the goal they need to achieve. That’s why Sue made sure that managers knew what to expect from the start:

“Leaders need to know what successful culture change looks like, how the process works and what resources are required.”

Practically this means engaging dialogue with leaders at meetings and workshops where you gain explicit commitment from who will lead each part of the programme and when.

“That’s when it really helps to have a consultancy like JOMC backing you up. It adds experience and authority to your message.”

Yet you must still articulate change and improvement in terms that your management will understand.

The true cost of accidents

“You have to change perception of what an ‘accident’ means and bring the effects to life.”

Sue and her colleagues acknowledged that accidents have far-reaching economic costs beyond just compensation. Like lost production time as well as the long-term negative effects on your organisation’s public reputation as a healthy place to work or trade with.
Yet most importantly is the moral cost, as Sue points out:

“Look at your accident statistics, you have to ask yourselves ‘is this acceptable the way things are now?'”

And as long as people are getting hurt, then the answer is ‘no’. Because safety is a journey of continual improvement.

Encourage local leadership early on

Hand dropping keys into another hand
For lasting culture change, ownership of your safety initiatives must be passed on to local representatives who then cascade the message through your organisation. So Sue recruited individuals from each Northern Foods site, attracted by the incentives of being a lead trainer:

“We saw growth and improvement in our lead trainers who all grew in confidence and ability to spread the message. And they went on to bigger and better things.”

If you seek less accidents and a safer workplace, start by engaging people at the top: directors, managers and supervisors. That’s how to trigger and sustain momentum in your culture change programme and keep safety fresh in people’s minds.

This article was written by Chris Kenworthy