How to engage your team in a health and safety culture

by Alex on September 5, 2017

Health and Safety Culture

The most robust set of policies and procedures on the planet won’t prevent accidents from occurring if your business doesn’t have a safety-first culture.

Thankfully, in construction, engineering, manufacturing and other high-risk industries, the importance of health and safety isn’t in question, as for a lot of businesses it lies at the heart of their strategy.

That being said, accidents and arguably preventable accidents still occur for a variety of reasons, and engaging your team in a true health and safety culture might help to prevent these accidents in the future.

It’s all about the culture

Employee behaviour is informed by the way people think and feel about health and safety.

A positive, safety-first culture will provide the right context within which employees can judge their behaviour. People will begin working safely not because they’ve had to fill out a form – they’ll do so because they want to.

It’s not unknown for workplace pranks to take place on construction sites and whilst “workplace banter is a great way to blow off some steam and to build strong teams”, it can be taken too far and “people can place themselves in danger”. (Behaviour and why people take risks in the workplace, Veritas Consulting)

Identify the barriers

If the culture within your business is one that appears to have a lack of respect for health and safety, it’s most likely because there are barriers in place.

It could be poor leadership, lack of understanding or even the belief that every policy is a ‘top-down’ affair, but identifying those barriers is the first step towards overcoming them. In the case of worksites, employees and staff often know there are dangers, but don’t always think about how the dangers might affect them.

Luckily, health and safety is far more progressive these days, with the focus switched from policies and procedures to people. That fact alone should also help you overcome any barriers currently in place.

How to change behaviour

Change is daunting for any business, and sustainable change is the most challenging, but it can only be achieved by engaging both front-line workers and management.

This can be done by moving away from a command and control approach and instead focusing on:

  • changing attitudes;
  • reviewing daily habits; and
  • recalibrating the way staff think about safety.

A safety-first culture is governed by how people go about their daily work. Most of what we do each day is habitual, after all, and a collective change in behaviour will shape the company culture.

This should result in reduced accident rates and raised productivity, but the change will be gradual.

Consider it a domino effect; if the behaviour of a particular employee produces a positive outcome (i.e. greater productivity), others will take note and be influenced to do the same.

McKinsey’s Influence Model suggests that behavioural change takes place when employees:

  • demonstrate complete understanding of what’s being asked of them;
  • see that the processes, structures and systems support any changes they’re asked to make;
  • are provided opportunities to behave in a new way; and
  • see their leaders, colleagues and staff setting the standard.

Setting the standard

If your business leads from the front, it’ll stand a far better chance of creating a health and safety culture.

Here’s five things you can do today to start gaining emotional investment company-wide:

  1. Communicate: find as many ways as possible to demonstrate why change is necessary. Clear and easy to read risk assessments and method statements (RAMS) will help to communicate the dangers of a site and the procedures to avoid these dangers.
  2. Reward: move from traditional rewards (bonuses, etc) to intrinsic motivators driven by passion and purpose. Keeping everyone safe on site is a team effort!
  3. Challenge: don’t accept the status quo; remain agile and encourage everyone to challenge assumptions.
  4. Talk and listen: Keep communicating the risks and control measures to ensure everyone knows what to do. Listen to the workforce as they might have certain ways of working that can keep others safe.
  5. Update: Health and safety never stands still, new risks will appear as a project moves forward so engage your team and review your risk assessment and method statements regularly. These are live H&S documents.

The health and safety culture will be different across different sites and industries, but it’s vital that a proper health and safety culture exists in order to prevent accidents and ensure everyone is looking out for everyone.

You can start by keeping your RAMS documents up to date, easy to understand and easy to access at any time. Try HANDS HQ to easily create, store and share professional RAMS documents.

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