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Cultural change

14 September 2018

Improving safety culture can reduce workplace fatalities and Matthew Elson gives an overview of how health and safety professionals can achieve this.

THE LATEST statistics on workplace-related fatalities showing a rise in employee deaths are a stark reminder that safety in the workplace remains paramount – so can driving safety culture in the workplace help to reduce the numbers?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures revealed that 144 workers were fatally injured between April 2017 and March 2018. Most upsetting, of course, is knowing that those statistics represent real people, whose deaths will have left their families, friends and colleagues devastated.
Knowing that those deaths may have been avoidable adds further distress, especially for health and safety professionals whose role is to keep employees safe.

Generally speaking, the UK is a safe place to work: workplaces are regulated, and laws are in place to ensure that employers provide safe working conditions for their employees. However, regulations and standards alone are not enough to protect workers – safety systems must be put in place, and a ‘safety culture’ developed, in which employees value their own safety, and that of their colleagues, as a personal responsibility.

A good safety culture is one where safety is perceived as a shared responsibility, and owned collectively, rather than a directive imposed by senior management. Culture is what is common within a group – it describes the key beliefs, behaviours, and knowledge needed to succeed and win. When it comes to improving the culture of safety within an organisation, discussions need to take place to identify those beliefs and behaviours – and employers can facilitate those discussions by helping employees to use their safety voices.

Involving employees in the development and planning of policies and enabling them to actively contribute to safety conversations on an ongoing basis encourages individuals to see safety as a value, rather than just a process to be followed.

Building a successful safety culture takes more than just a software solution, but by taking an innovative approach towards health and safety management, technology can make a significant contribution to helping keep a workforce safe. With that in mind, how can health and safety professionals nurture a safety culture with the goal of reducing workplace injuries and fatalities?

Innovative solutions

In a bid to support safety culture, many organisations are introducing innovative solutions to support health and safety management, solutions that assist and encourage managers and employees in reporting, investigating and sharing lessons learned.

Using intelligent technology to provide accessible, user-friendly tools allows everybody to contribute to safety conversations. When employees can contribute, they’ll engage: that engagement means that safety becomes part of ‘the way we do things’ and a culture of safety evolves.

Recent innovations in cloud-based and mobile technologies have the potential to change the face of ‘traditional’ management systems and reporting tools. Furthermore, as workplace practices – and, indeed, the nature of the workforce itself – evolve, the benefits of employing such tools has become compelling.

Let’s look at the example of the lone worker, working in remote conditions. Perhaps they also work in multiple locations across several sites, or their first language is not that of the company’s standard reporting system. The worker may be subject to unsociable hours, without recourse to office-based support staff, and unable to access paper or office-based systems, such as incident books. What’s more, most employees just want to get their jobs done, without the added stress of extra layers of administration.

In this instance, traditional reporting methods – many of which are notoriously time-consuming at the best of times – are effectively useless, and the risk of an incident going unreported is high. The opportunity to collect data and learn from an incident or near miss is lost, therefore increasing the possibility of it happening again – perhaps with more severe consequences.

Even if relevant data is captured, it is often hard to access – think of paper reports lost in filing cabinets – and even those organisations that effectively store data rarely have the tools available to turn it into actionable decisions that can improve safety in the workplace. This creates a serious business risk. But to compound the challenge, this ‘black hole’ is bound to negatively affect the employee engagement.

However, given an appropriate tool – for example, a user-friendly mobile app, with an intuitive user interface, which can be accessed offline when a data connection is unavailable – the employee is far more likely to record an incident or near miss, particularly when the relevant training and supporting processes are put in place.

Empowering employees to take responsibility, and to get onboard with the safety journey, is a proven method of increasing engagement levels. Furthermore, by removing ‘clunky’ process-driven requirements, the worker becomes more efficient in their practices, and subsequently more productive.

Additionally, data can be collected locally in local language forms and reported consistently worldwide. Work processes can be seamless, allowing central teams to review and approve locally generated content such as incident investigations or risk assessments, as well as ensuring that all workers are included in an organisation’s safety culture.

Data capture

Good, meaningful data is the lodestone of an effective safety management system: the mantra ‘what gets measured gets managed’ should always be at the forefront of any health and safety professional’s thoughts.

Safety management software provides the opportunity to analyse, compare and communicate data on near misses, the relative safety performance of branch sites and facilities, staff training levels and much more. Therefore, the provision of an elegant data capture and business intelligence solution aids managers in applying lessons learned from incidents.

An effective digital solution can help to streamline this process, before helping managers transition from a ‘reactive’ to a ‘proactive’ stance, where data can be dissected and trends identified. This, in turn, allows managers to track leading indicators (such as safe and unsafe observations), and predict where preventative measures will be most effective.

Most importantly, however, providing workers with the tools to allow them to do their jobs safely and efficiently, through clear and open lines of communication, is the foundation of a strong safety culture. Good leadership provides consistency and encourages collaboration – safety stops being a checklist exercise, or the sole responsibility of one individual, and becomes an inherent part of every worker’s role. 

Embedding such a safety culture, with positive enforcement through leadership and the provision of appropriate tools, delivers tangible benefits. Software solutions address a fundamental psychological phenomenon, and support ‘common sense’: if a process is simple and straightforward, then an individual is more likely to adopt it. Effective health and safety doesn’t happen behind a desk, so, by giving employees the tools and information they need to embed safety into their day-to-day role, significant improvements in safety performance will naturally follow.

Obviously, health and safety management software isn’t a ‘magic wand’ to solve every health and safety challenge. However, when viewed as a catalyst to drive and monitor change, organisations that are open to software’s potential to radically improve workers’ safety and health will benefit.

Safety management isn’t just a financial or legal requirement, it has a very real moral element: the difference between an effective and an ineffective system could literally be life or death. If the UK is to improve on its workplace safety statistics, then organisations have a responsibility to look towards the future, and to embrace innovation as part of a wider commitment to improving and safeguarding the lives of their workforce.

Matthew Elson is CEO at SHE Software. For more information, visit www.shesoftware.com