Health & Safety Culture

You may have heard of a ‘Safety Culture’ being discussed on site. Every company has one…but what is it and why should you care about it? Here we look at the types of safety culture, how to identify a negative culture and how to promote a more positive culture on site.

The HSE define an organisation’s safety culture as:

“… 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.”

Negative Vs Positive

A positive safety culture is the culture of a workplace in which all the employees think of safety as an important thing and behave in a way that prioritizes their own safety as well as the safety of those around them.

A negative culture is where health and safety is seen as unnecessary or unimportant by management and the workforce, usually stemming from a lack of commitment from senior management. Unsafe behaviours are commonplace.

Benefits of a Positive Safety Culture

There are many benefits to promoting a positive safety culture in your company, including;

  • Reduced risk of accidents
  • Reduced risk of fines
  • Lower absenteeism
  • Improved company reputation
  • Lower staff turnover
  • Improved productivity, quality & profitability
  • Happier workforce
  • Reduced direct/indirect costs associated with accidents

Tell–tale signs of negative health & safety culture

Blame Culture
Accident Investigation outcomes always point the finger at the employee rather than the systems instead of looking within the company and looking at management systems to identify the root causes of an accident.

Priorities Misplaced
Sometimes, there is a culture that profitability is the only concern in an organization. Safety and health are seen as an added cost. Symptoms of this include workers rushing and working too quickly, companies not wanting to purchase the correct PPE and other equipment, over-working employees, and focusing exclusively on the bottom line..

Little or no incident/near miss reporting
This symptom is usually borne from a blame culture where the employee is reluctant to report a problem for fear of repercussions such as disciplinary action.

High Staff Turnover
Safety-conscious workers are in the minority and they may leave because they do not like the organizational culture and feel unsafe in the work situation.

Key Factors in Promoting a Positive Health & Safety Culture

Leading from the front
Safety culture should start at the top. It is up to the senior management to encourage safety programs and also “walk the walk” when it comes to enforcing the policies. Employees will notice if management gives safety lectures but don’t follow the safety advice themselves. Top positions of your company need to be 100% onboard with promoting safety in your organization.

It’s pointless being cooped in your site office. Being visible and present during work is perhaps one of the best ways to start engaging with your workforce. You’ve all heard of the ‘us and them’ culture and it’s exactly this type of behaviour from management that can help eradicate this.

Empowering your Workforce
Some firms have a policy where they nominate contractors as ‘Safety Champions’. This brings into the fold your workforce and helps establish safety decisions that are more likely to be adhered to than if they were implemented by an external Health and Safety Advisor.


The ‘buy in’
For this to happen there needs to be an element of investment into the contractor. An employee who feels that their opinion is valued is more likely to take part in systems they’ve helped develop.

This leads onto communication and that this should be a 2-way dialogue. Value your workers – take them on board and, if possible, get them to help develop your site safety systems and procedures. They are often best placed to formulate a risk assessment as they are the people usually exposed to it.

If a worker feels like they’re being valued and there’s currency in their opinions, then it’s highly likely they will abide by whatever safety mechanism they’ve helped put in place.

This isn’t an exhaustive set of tips, you may have some of your own that work. Some of the ideas, may take time, like utilising the workers to help formulate assessments, but balance this against an accident and you’ll see that time spent engaging with your workers is time well spent.
Time and money spent proactively preparing and working with your contractors to implement safe standards is greatly outweighed by the time and money spent dealing with the repercussions of an accident, proving that proactive management of risk will save you money and time in the long term.

About the Author

Craig Douglas

Craig is a British Army veteran with experience working under pressure in challenging circumstances. As part of his Army resettlement, Craig gained employment with Remploy Automotive in Coventry, working with disadvantaged and disabled persons. He found the work rewarding at Remploy and enjoyed working with the people there. He attained competency in internal auditing the company and helped further develop the already robust safety attitude in place.
Craig moved on to work in northern Iraq as a Health and Safety Trainer. This was for a Norwegian Oil Company and he worked with both Kurdish Nationals, Indians and Chinese within this environment. He helped implement a Behavioural Based System and a new Permit to Work System, bridging many cultural gaps, ensuring that the company worked safer together as a team. Craig was also involved in the construction of an extension to the diesel and oil Central Production Facility.
Craig returned to the UK and worked for a training company delivering a wide range of safety courses to many different industries including BAe., BMW, EON and Diary Crest.
Craig has extensive knowledge and experience of developing and implementing management systems based on ISO 14001 and ISO TS16949 alongside carrying out risk assessments and comprehensive site audits on varying scales. Craig has the ability to compile the findings in detailed reports and make site specific recommendations and develop tailored action plans to suit any business.