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A question of attitude

18 March 2014

Rob Burgon, workplace safety manager at The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), discusses why it is vital that managers understand how workers feel about their jobs.

It is crucial that you understand how your staff feel about their jobs. An employee’s attitude is very much a part of their own perception of self, which in turn feeds into their safety culture; and that can have a knock-on effect on their peers and generate a greater effect on the workforce safety culture.

One thing you should be familiar with is the Acronym SKATE (Skill, Knowledge, Attitude, Training and Experience). It is usually used when discussing a person’s or organisation’s competency and is relevant whether you are recruiting a new employee, promoting an existing one, offering tenders to contractors or even benchmarking your organisation in the marketplace.

Competence all hinges on Attitude within SKATE and this attitude can be one of corporate responsibility or an individual’s responsibility at any level from sitting on the board to being a junior in the warehouse.

When I write about a job attitude, the technical meaning is a set of evaluations that constitute a person’s feelings towards, beliefs about, and attachments to their job. An overall job attitude can be conceptualised in two ways – as job satisfaction that constitutes a general or global subjective feeling about a job, or as a composite of objective cognitive assessments of specific job facets, such as pay, conditions and opportunities.
We can measure an employee’s attitude without trying to reinvent the wheel. Tools that can be used are freely available online and include anonymous questionnaires, such as the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) climate safety tool, or an attitude survey. Once you know these attitudes, you can then do something about influencing them.

The benefits of behavioural safety training 
One way to influence an employee’s attitude is through behavioural safety training. This tends to come into play for employees at lower levels in an organisation, but we must not forget those on the board of directors, who hold between them a corporate attitude to safety. There is excellent information available through the Institute of Directors (IOD) for board members and senior managers, which gives very useful guidance in many areas.

However, to get the best out of your most expensive asset, you need to understand how they can benefit from behavioural safety training. Therefore, when planning this training, it is worth the time and effort to assess which employees would benefit the most and plan your training matrix appropriately. We surely have all met people in responsible roles who have high skill and knowledge levels gained through a life of training and real life experiences, but who we wouldn’t want to spend any quality time with purely based on their negative or distorted attitudes (this is obviously aimed at previous employers).

My remit of heading a team of consultants and trainers highlights just how many organisations are taking this area very seriously indeed. Many blue chip companies, SMEs and the self employed have made in-roads in this area and have benefitted accordingly. 

There are many health and safety organisations promoting behavioural training in a variety of forms, and looking at many of the health and safety blogs and forums out there, it is clear that many are talking about these issues. All we have to do as health and safety professionals is to keep pushing and promoting the great importance of having the correct attitude at work. After all, it is recognised in our profession as one of the most difficult things to change.

There is one exception, however, to what I see on these forums and that is how we should be targeting new recruits. Let us aim to persuade human resources departments to make it part of induction training instead of waiting weeks, months or even years before we make a difference.

Reading a forum comment the other day, there was one very good question. Why are there so many organisations using "health and safety traffic wardens”? These wardens are tasked with looking for near-misses and incidents and this is indeed important information if it is gathered in the right atmosphere (real inspections, safety tours and so on).
Where this information is shared and communicated in the right way, it can help to mould a positive health and safety culture and gain commitment from all levels of the organisation. By including all employees and making them feel a respected part of the organisation, you will see the results in a very positive attitude, which continues to feed a glowing health and safety culture.