Many articles, scientific papers and even textbooks have been written about safety culture. All modern OSH management standards unanimously call for the improvement of safety culture everywhere.
Consultants and business trainers are massively retrained to meet market needs, labor protection specialists are trying to implement systems developed by someone. But do many of them understand what safety culture is in real life, and not in beautiful presentations?
As practice shows, this is not always the case.
We can start with the IAEA definition, published in the materials of the investigation into the causes of the Chernobyl accident back in 1986: “Safety culture is a set of characteristics and features of the activities of organizations and the behavior of individuals, which establishes that the safety problems of a nuclear power plant, as having the highest priority, attention is paid, determined by their importance ”.
Despite the context, primarily covering the nuclear industry, this definition is relevant now, but it is this definition that often leads to some difficulties in working on this very culture, one of which is that these definitions seem to force focus on the manifestations of culture, then there is precisely on the features of behavior and attitude to security issues.
If we proceed from this understanding, then all projects to improve safety culture will be limited to the control of behavior itself, that is, the external manifestations of those phenomena and factors that determine this very behavior from the inside, at the psychological level.
The British Occupational Safety and Health Administration, for example, offers the following definition: “Safety culture is a product of personal and collective values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies and behaviors that determine the overall level of responsible attitude to health and safety management, the style and effectiveness of such management “.
This definition gives us more practical use – we begin to come to an understanding that we need to work not only on the external manifestations of culture, but also try to change the “internal settings” of both managers and employees.
To better understand safety culture as a complex complex of interacting factors, one should proceed from the fact that this is a special case of organizational culture in general and it is quite appropriate to take the word culture literally.
We can say that culture is a style of collective functioning.
That is, culture is how people interact within an organization, how they relate to their responsibilities, how they communicate, how they behave, how much they respect each other, the employer and the result of their work. Since management is an integral part of culture, we also include in this concept how (and even in what style) managers work, how they relate to employees, how concerned they are with issues of their lives, health and well-being.
If it seems to you that this is very similar to the culture of society as a whole, then you are absolutely right – the culture of an organization is a special case of the culture of a society.
Let’s say you hear the phrase “Mayan culture” and immediately think of things like the majestic pyramids, human sacrifices, raids on neighboring tribes, and the like.
Why did these people meekly obey the priests and obediently walk to the top of those same pyramids to certain death? Why did they exterminate neighboring tribes quite brutally? That is, why did their culture manifest itself in this way?
By asking ourselves this last question, but already in the context of our own enterprise, we will be able to make work on culture much more effective – we will not focus only on the manifestations of this culture, we will understand what needs to be changed at the level of conscious perception, values, habits and even traditions within the team.
The relationship between organizational culture, production and safety is quite obvious – we can hardly expect compliance with safety rules from an employee who is careless about tools, does not maintain cleanliness and order, does not respect his colleagues, and in the end does not get along with neighbors, does not give way elderly people on public transport or interferes with other drivers while driving.
If we talk about a high safety culture, then its manifestations will be that employees are more likely to perform work in accordance with the rules, think about the risks before doing something, stop a colleague committing a violation, and do this to prevent injury. and not just because it is supposed to be.
At the individual level, the internal factors that shape the culture of an employee depend on many external aspects, such as management style, sufficient communication, working conditions, the presence of a common goal or vision set by the policy of the enterprise that is understandable and acceptable to all.
Therefore, in our understanding of safety culture, we invest not only the result or product of a given culture (behavior, work styles, attitudes), but also those factors that shape this result.
For a better understanding of these processes and aspects, a specialist needs to know not only the principles of OSH management proper (in themselves they rarely take into account the human component), but also have a basic understanding of such phenomena as perception, attitudes, motivation, and also be able to work with them.
In order not to study the psychology of behavior and organizational design in the volume of higher education, you can turn to more accessible and practical tools, for example, take the NEBOSH certification course or other similar programs, which consider the practical issues of strengthening a safety culture and creating motivation among workers.
Questions to the article: At what level is the safety culture in your organization? What challenges do you face in strengthening your safety culture?