The emphasis of safety has changed throughout the years, from industry specific legislation and a focus on improving hardware (guards, safer equipment). The introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 focused on the physical aspects of our building and equipment, ensuring engineering of safety solutions was integrated into our interaction with our surroundings and investing in employee’s performance (selection and training, incentives and reward schemes).
In the 1990s, following several large fatal incidents (Kings Cross, Herald of Free Enterprise, Clapham Junction and Piper Alpha), the Government began to focus on the management of safety with the introduction of safety management systems. Throughout these specific times, accidents have reached a plateau level, whereby improvements seem limited.
The step change in safety over the past 15-20 years has focused on developing a good safety culture that positively influences human behaviour at work to reduce errors and violations. Such approach has seen a further reduction in fatalities.
Today we recognise that safety has to be felt and lead. A safety culture needs to be more than a vision statement and a zero-accident approach. The HSE state:
“The safety culture of an organisation is 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. Organisations with a positive safety culture are characterised by communications founded on mutual trust, by shared perceptions of the importance of safety and by confidence in the efficacy of preventive measures.” ACSNI Human Factors Study Group: Third report - Organising for safety HSE Books 1993
Many companies talk about ‘safety culture’ when referring to the inclination of their employees to comply with rules or act safety or unsafely. Traditional approaches of policy and compliance is fast becoming outdated, the development of the safety landscape means putting people first to ensure a positive culture at the heart of the business.
In challenging economic times, whereby companies are required to do more, with less resources, the significance of a positive culture, whereby employees care for the brand, thrive in complex business operational realities and contribute to the growth and profit of a business, is a necessity for any employer.