Why is organisational culture important?
Culture can be best understood as "the way we do things around here". Culture forms the context within which people judge the appropriateness of their behaviour. An organisation's culture will influence human behaviour and human performance at work. Poor safety culture has contributed to many major incidents and personal injuries.
An organisation's culture can have as big an influence on safety outcomes as the safety management system. 'Safety culture' is a subset of the overall organisational or company culture. Many companies talk about 'safety culture' when referring to the inclination of their employees to comply with rules or act safety or unsafely. However we find that the culture and style of management is even more significant, for example a natural, unconscious bias for production over safety, or a tendency to focus on the short-term and being highly reactive. Success normally comes from good leadership, good worker involvement and good communications.
A Safety Climate survey provides a snapshot of the organisation's culture in relation to safety. Questionnaires designed to measure the culture of the organisation tend to focus on employee perceptions and behaviours. The HSE's Safety Climate Survey Tool is currently being revised, and also a new Process Safety Climate Tool is being developed.
The largest influences on safety culture are:
- management commitment and style;
- employee involvement;
- training and competence;
- compliance with procedures; and
- organisational learning.
Therefore, this key topic contains links to three other issues:
Key principles on organisational culture
- A culture change process can take several years.
- A good starting place is to measure your existing safety culture perhaps by using a safety climate tool or more informally by talking to your workforce (proportionate to the hazards and risks in your workplace). This can help you target weak areas within your organisation's culture.
- As a first pass you could make use of the questions in the Human Factors Toolkit with your employees.
- Remember that any set of measurements is only a starting point. It is important to take action on the findings of any measurement and to feedback the findings to your employees. Organisations have found it beneficial to repeat measurements to track progress.
- Organisations have had very positive results from focusing on specific issues such as safety leadership, competence or procedures.
- Many organisations use third parties to help measure and change their culture. It is important to retain ownership of the process and work in partnership, and acquire the knowledge and skills to continue the work independently.
- One common mistake is to focus on the staff levels below the manager who initiates the work. Senior managers should be prepared to have their own perceptions and behaviours examined and challenged.
Further guidance on organisational culture
- Extract from inspectors human factors toolkit - Common topic 4: Safety culture
- Managing for health and safety (HSG65)
- Reducing Error and Influencing Behaviour (HSG48) p.44 to 48
These pages include a list of the key factors which influence an organisation's health and safety culture – and which are also linked with better safety performance.
- Baker Report into the BP Texas City incident
An example of a Process Safety Culture Survey can be found in Appendix G.
- Hearts and Minds Toolkit
This toolkit - for improving the culture of safety in an organisation - was developed by Shell E&P, and is now freely available with the support of the Energy Institute.
- Culture and HSE, Petroleum Safety Authority, Norway
- Organising for Safety - 3rd report of ACSNI Study Group on Human Factors
HSE, 1993. London, ISBN 0 11 882104 0
- Safety Culture Maturity Model
HSE (2000). OTO 2000/049.
- Summary guide to safety climate tools
HSE (1999). OTO 1999/063
- Evaluating the effectiveness of the HSE's health and safety climate survey tool
Research Report 042/2002
- Development of a business excellence model of safety culture
This work provides a comprehensive review of research on how to assess and develop safety culture.
- The 'How to Guide' for Implementing Human Factors in Health Care
Carthey, J. and Clarke, J.(2009) Patient Safety First .