Positive Safety Culture: what does it mean?

This week our Safety Advisor, Jon, has been looking back at the history of the Health & Safety at Work Act and how we should be promoting a positive safety culture in our workplaces.

On average around 135 people die in the UK from a work-related accident each year

You may think that 135 people out of 60 million is a good number, but its 135 people that have died needlessly while at work trying to earn a living.

Background – Negative safety culture

Before 1974 there were ministries that were responsible for setting legislation regarding health and safety.

For example, the Ministry for Agriculture fisheries and Food and the Ministry for Factories.

These ministries where only introduced for some working sectors, and therefore did not cover all workers in all sectors.

The regulations applied at this time were very prescriptive. This meant that the regulations were strict, but did not cover every eventuality 

Inspectors were present to only decide whether or not the regulations were being applied. They were not permitted to take a pragmatic view on workplace health and safety issues. 

Advisory committees had not been introduced at this time, so the regulations did not keep up with the ever-moving development of equipment and working practices.

Because of the restrictions of the regulations and the fact that not all workers were included in the regulations, a negative safety culture was present at this time.  

This meant that a lot of injuries were not reported properly, with very little chance of compensation for the injured worker, with nothing acted upon to remedy the situation to stop it happening again. 

In 1974 the Health and Safety Executive was formed, and the Health and Safety at Work Act (HASWA) 1974, became a new regulation (law) that was introduced to all protect workers in all sectors, and gave employers guidance on the minimum requirement they had to implement to keep their work force safe.

In addition to the HASWA, advisory bodies were formed to provide guidance on working procedures within the various working sectors. This guidance was vital, as it could be amended quickly to provide up to date information on new working practices or equipment, rather than waiting for legislation to change, which could take years.

The HSE then provided this guidance as Best Practice advice.

In 1974, when the HASAWA introduced, companies had a large step in their health and safety regimes to become compliant.

These days all companies are encouraged to promote Best Practice. These are the steps you can take, to go above and beyond the regulations, which are now regarded as the absolute minimum anyone should achieve.

So how does a positive safety culture work?

Step 1) Get your directorship on board – without you directors setting an example to the workers, how can anyone expect the workers to react positively.

Step 2) No blame culture – Accident investigation should be sympathetic to all parties involved. The primary point of any investigation is to take steps to reduce the risk or, where possible, prevent the accident happening again. The insurance companies and The HSE / local authority will determine who was to blame.

Step 3) Total commitment from all parties within the workforce to look after themselves and each other – to have the confidence to speak out regarding health and safety issues, without the fear of reprisals.

Step 4) Communication – Take steps to implement easy accident / near miss reporting. Involve the workers in Health and Safety matters, such as buying equipment, working procedures etc.

Accident, incident and near miss reporting only works if the system is easy to use, and someone actually looks into the data it provides and uses these as learnings.

Near miss reporting is used to look at trends that appear, without anyone getting injured.

For every 189 near misses there will be one major accident. If we look at these near misses as that occur, we can start to see one of two patterns forming:

Pattern 1) the same person is being reported for continuous near miss incidents. 

This indicates that there may be a training gap, stress, etc taking place with this individual 

Pattern 2) the same near miss is being reported by multiple individuals all performing the same task

This indicates that the method of working may be at fault. 

The great thing about a near miss is that you are receiving data you can learn from, and no-one is getting harmed.

For more on positive safety culture, visit our earlier blog post here.