The larger your company, the more you must rely on delegation and the efficacy of your systems to conduct key messages, behaviours and activities to all members in the company. But is that enough?
Standards and systems are never more important than in the case of workplace health and safety, where lives are at risk. You may be thinking that sounds a little melodramatic? Well, consider these figures from the International Labour Organisation:
It is also cause for us to consider that perhaps we need something more than just systems and checklists to improve the state of health and safety in our workplaces. Don’t get me wrong – you absolutely need to have those standards and systems in place - read more on OHS Systems - Why on earth do we need them? and What's in your safety file?)
We recommend that all food facilities have an effective OHSAS 18001 system implemented, along with full management commitment. (And by the way, make sure to watch out for ISO 45001, Occupational health and safety management systems - Requirements, which is intended to replace BS OHSAS 18001 read more on this here.) But we do believe that we can do even more to ensure better safety in our organisations.
Beyond standards and systems is the factor of culture. Every company has a culture, whether by chance or by design. It is based on the behaviours, beliefs and attitudes of every member, from the top down. This culture exists by default, the sum total of the innate characteristics that become the unspoken lifestyle inherent within the organisation.
The problem is this - if you have not designed your culture intentionally it may not be what you want it to be. It may be a culture of negativity, a lack of customer centricity or a culture that ignores the value safety. It is important to identify what your existing culture is, what you actually want it to be, and then work towards developing and communicating that throughout your organisation.
Yes, health and safety can be a culture too. In fact, safety needs to extend beyond the mandated requirements set in place by the company, there must be individual understanding, commitment and adoption of safety principles and behaviours. There needs to be a culture of safety in place.
Safeopedia defines a safety culture this way, "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. This includes using proper personal equipment, following the safety laws and just generally being conscious of safety and safe practices at all times."
An interesting fact - the term `safety culture' was coined in the 1987 OECD Nuclear Agency report (INSAG, 1988) on the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. The term has come into common use, and is widely used to represent the atmosphere or culture within a company, whereby safety is considered to be the top priority.
Taking it one step further, in order to strengthen and develop the safety culture within your organisation, you need to be (and to develop) carriers of your that culture.
Zachary Warren and Fathali M. Moghaddam refer to cultural carriers as, "… powerful vehicles of meaning that influence continuity and change in human societies (Moghaddam, 2002). Cultural carriers can be objects, political figures, practices, and concepts that preserve or “carry” certain normative meanings over time. "
You can be a culture carriers. Your management team can be culture carriers. In fact culture carries can be anyone within your organisation who takes ownership of the company's culture and encourages others to do the same.
This is exactly what you want - an organisation filled with people who live ‘safety first’ and who model that to everyone within their circle of influence. They are the kind of people who talk about safety, encourage their peers to be mindful of it. The kind of people who encourage others to stick to the safety guidelines, to wear their PPE, to hold on to the handrail when descending the stairs and all the other things that make a workplace safer.