What’s health and safety got to do with culture? Surely health and safety is all about procedures and processes, rules and regulations? Well, unfortunately, in some people’s minds it is; but where you find that attitude, you will generally find an organisation which has a culture which is well overdue for reform.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for rules and regulations in the health and safety arena but those rules and regulations should be drawn up and applied with a measure of common sense. In fact, take a look at the HSE website and you will find numerous instances where they recommend taking a reasoned approach.
But if we aren’t going to rely solely on rules and regulations then we have to engage our people in an organisational culture and ethos which promotes a robust health and safety approach to tasks. If you’ll forgive the analogy, it’s a bit like the learning stages which we go through in our early years. For example, when small children put their hand near fire they may simply be told ‘no’ with or without the addition of the word ‘hot.’ As we get older we learn what hot actually means and the consequences of putting a hand too near the fire; and as we develop reasoning we then learn to apply our knowledge to a range of situations.
Now let’s take that example into the workplace. If employees are simply told ‘no’, or here are the rules you must follow them, then we are treating them as young toddlers; not trusting them to reason or to understand the consequences of their actions. On the other hand, if the culture is one that encourages freethinking and empowerment and if employees are helped to understand the potential dangers then you will generally find that they take a reasoned approach; thus strengthening general awareness and attitudes towards health and safety.
For example, we don’t know whether pure accident or a lack of engagement in health and safety culture led to last June’s rollercoaster crash at Alton Towers but in the recently released report a spokeswoman for the theme park commented that a misunderstanding over a ride shutdown message “led to a decision to manually restart the ride, overriding the control system without appropriate safety protocols being followed correctly.” Admittedly, you can never completely eliminate the chance of human error but with a health and safety culture in place, employees are more likely to stop and think before they take any actions which could potentially cause harm.
When safety of any sort is seen as a set of instructions rather than an intrinsic element of organisational culture then inevitably human error is going to lead to unintended consequences. Whether it be health and safety breaches leading to potential injury or cyber security breaches leading to a loss of funds or confidential customer data, is immaterial. What matters for all organisations is that they take steps to engage their people in a culture which encourages them to reason and to take ownership of security.