DEFINITION OF A HEALTH AND SAFETY CULTURE BASIC INFORMATION AND TUTORIALS



In 1972, the Robens report recognized that the introduction of health and safety management systems was essential if the ideal of self-regulation of health and safety by industry was to be realized. It further recognized that a more active involvement of the workforce in such systems was essential if self-regulation was to work.

Self regulation and the implicit need for health and safety management systems and employee involvement was incorporated into the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Since the introduction of the HSW Act, health and safety standards have improved considerably but there have been some catastrophic failures.

One of the worst was the fire on the off-shore oil platform, Piper Alpha, in 1988 when 167 people died. At the subsequent inquiry, the concept of a safety culture was defi ned by the Director General of the HSE at the time, J R Rimington. This definition has remained as one of the main checklists for a successful health and safety management system.


The health and safety culture of an organization may be described as the development stage of the organization in health and safety management at a particular time. HSG 65 gives the following defi nition of a health and safety culture:

The safety culture of an organization is the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and the style and profi ciency of, an organization’s health and safety management.

Organizations with a positive safety culture are characterized by communications founded on mutual trust, by shared perceptions of the importance of safety and by confidence in the effi cacy of preventive measures. There is concern among some health and safety professionals that many health and safety cultures are developed and driven by senior managers with very little input from the workforce.

Others argue that this arrangement is sensible because the legal duties are placed on the employer. A positive health and safety culture needs the involvement of the whole workforce just as a successful
quality system does.

There must be a joint commitment in terms of attitudes and values. The workforce must believe that the safety measures put in place will be effective and followed even when fi nancial and performance targets may be affected.


Factors affecting a health and safety culture
The most important factor affecting the culture is the commitment to health and safety from the top of an organization. This commitment may be shown in many different ways.

It needs to have a formal aspect in terms of an organizational structure, job descriptions and a health and safety policy, but it also needs to be apparent during crises or other stressful times. The health and safety procedures may be circumvented or simply forgotten when production or other performance targets are threatened.

Structural reorganization or changes in market conditions will produce feelings of uncertainty among the workforce which, in turn, will affect the health and safety culture.

Poor levels of supervision, health and safety information and training are very significant factors in reducing health and safety awareness and, therefore, the culture.

Finally, the degree of consultation and involvement with the workforce in health and safety matters is crucial for a positive health and safety culture. Most of these factors may be summed up as human factors.

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