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Does an improved safety culture really reduce accidents?

The Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) has been at the forefront of understanding organisational safety culture and its impact on business performance for many years now. Understanding safety culture is part of the journey towards improving organisational reliability. Organisations have responsibilities for the management of their risks, and to ensure adequate and appropriate risk mitigation and the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations exist to protect employees of all UK organisations.

‘Safety culture’ is defined as “the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies, and patterns of behaviour that determine commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organisation’s health and safety management” (HSC, 1993).

There are legislative requirements regarding employee involvement, management arrangements and competency assurance but not for culture per se. So although safety culture and its assessment is not a legal requirement, safety culture assessment is recognised as important as it has a direct impact on the safety of employees, contractors and the public. In fact, a number of regulatory and industry bodies, including those in the rail and air traffic control sectors, recommend the assessment of safety culture and it was a requirement during the construction of the Olympic Park to guide the development of a positive safety culture.

Although safety culture is not directly required, it is considered to be a side effect of good demonstration of legislative requirements; the high profile accidents outlined earlier highlight consequences of a poor safety culture. The good news is that it can. Safety climate is typically measured through questionnaires that explore an individual’s attitudes and perceptions regarding safety.

HSL is exploring the use of SCT data as part of a benchmarking service, to allow users to compare the safety climate of their own organisation to those of other organisations of similar size, within the same industrial sector, or to all other organisations as a whole. Since its launch in 2010, the HSL SCT has been used to survey more than 40,000 people, from organisations across a range of industry sectors, including manufacturing, construction, rail, mining and other major hazardous activities.

Companies can use the SCT to ‘track and trend’ their performance, and to ensure that they are constantly improving. The Vale case study below provides an illustration of how the SCT can be used to target areas for improvement, and to carry on the pursuit of excellence in the area of health and safety.

HSL’s white paper ‘Measuring the Safety Climate in Organisations’ explains what safety culture is, why it is important and what you can do to understand and improve it within your organisation. HSL and Cardinus have created this document to help you understand organisational health and safety culture and how it can be improved.

To receive your free PDF copy of the white paper please visit the Safety Climate Tool page at the Health & Safety Laboratory.

Contains public sector information published by the Health & Safety Laboratory and licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

 

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