I’ve recently visited a number of different companies in the UK and the Middle East and seen extraordinary levels of commitment and dedication in getting health and safety right. These businesses strive to create the right culture - leading from the top with all workers understanding the role they play in ensuring everyone goes home safe at the end of the working day.
I was recently asked how I knew when a proper safety culture is embedded in an organisation. There is no simple answer but one way of testing is to ask the workforce.
All too often senior managers are convinced they have first class systems in place and rules are well understood and complied with by all staff. However, talk to those same staff and you may hear a different story, a story of managers prepared to turn a blind eye to safety short cuts when there is pressure on production, or of procedures that simply don't reflect the reality of the job or established practices.
While overseas, I recently saw an admirable attempt to communicate the key safety messages by the use of a "10 Simple Golden Rules for Safety" poster. Or at least, I thought it was until I got about halfway down the list of rules and came across this: ‘Always seek authorisation before bypassing safety systems’
Now, of course no-one should ever bypass safety systems on their own initiative, but to me this ‘rule’ implies it's okay to bypass safety systems as long as you have permission, which is of course creating completely the wrong culture within the organisation.
I didn't know how many times such bypassing of systems had taken place but I did ask them to take a long hard look at this so called golden rule and think about whether the message they actually intended is being conveyed to workers. In truly exceptional circumstances it may be necessary to bypass a system but only after careful thought, proper risk assessment, good communication to everyone who is likely to be affected, and the full details of the exception process can be authorised by competent people. Bypassing the system must be a ‘big deal’ not something that's "Ok as long as you get permission".
How confident are you that all of your "rules" mean the same to your audience as you intended?
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