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Making safety a way of life

BUILDING a culture of accident-free operations is a dream of every organisation but, unfortunately, this is not ultimately easy because safety in many organisations operates as a mere programme anchored on a checklist or individuals and not on value-driven systems. Dependency among people and paper-based systems have proven costly and unsustainable in that some measures are too soft a control in mitigating accidents.
If safety responsibility is anchored on supervisors or safety officers, the time they leave site, workers tend to become complacent and thus take short-cuts that could probably result in unwanted events. That is not to suggest that supervisors’ visibility is not important, it is necessary but obviously not sustainable. Building a culture of safety and making it a way of life ought to take centre stage so much that even without the presence of supervisors, workers will still do the right thing.
Why should we build a culture of safety? This is for only two reasons: productivity and profitability. A safe organisation will run more productively, with fewer employee injuries as well as associated absences and also fewer safety violations that might result in work interruptions. Safety as a way of life can make your organisation more profitable for the same reasons; a well-motivated workforce means work gets done without costly injuries that impact on your bottom line. According to W.H. Heinrich (1931), who developed the so-called domino theory, “88 percent of all accidents are caused by unsafe acts of people, 10 percent by unsafe actions and 2 percent by ‘acts of God’.” If truly 88 percent of accidents are caused by human behaviour, then a lot of attention should be given to deal with employees’ mindset. Indeed it takes a bit of time to change behaviour but the most important thing is to start the process all together.
We cannot ignore the fact that people come from different backgrounds; some don’t see it wrong to report for work under the influence of alcohol because they grew up in homes where it’s culturally accepted to drink alcohol and go farming. Others grew up in environments where they were taught that diseases only kill those who have paid attention to healthy living. To defuse such contaminated beliefs and lifestyles embedded in people’s minds, there is need to panel beat and shape human thinking in line with set company values so that workers will unlearn what they know and adapt to assimilate that which will make them become reliable and dependable.
How can safety become a way of life? There are various ways through which safety as way of life can be attainable. Application of science of behaviour-change methodology also, known as behaviour based safety (BBS) has become the real world safety solution. This brings about a total safety culture in which:
(a) Individuals hold safety as a ‘value’ and not just a priority
(b) Individuals take responsibility for the safety of their co-workers in addition to themselves; and
(c) Employees at all levels are willing and able to act on their sense of responsibility and willingly can go ‘beyond the call of duty’.
There could be other methods like one-on-one coaching, employee involvement in management programmes, policy formulation, but over and above, having influencers helps a lot in shaping behaviour. According to (2014), “the 80/20 rule applies to an organisation’s culture: 20 percent of staff set the culture, and the other 80 percent follow it. The 20 percent who really influence your company’s culture typically, highly respected mid-level managers and senior employees at all levels, must be on board with the safety standards and policies. This means involving those staff members early on in the process of planning and forming safety policies”. Influencers are those individuals you see wearing helmets even in areas where there is no risk of any failing objects that could potentially injure them. These are safety models that practise safety be it at home, at church, at school and everywhere where they are found. These are people who ‘dream safety’, ‘walk safety’, ‘talk safety’ and ‘live safety’. To make safety as a way of life, organisations should make it an integral part of business where productivity in principle becomes equal to safety. Doing so will mean that anyone can stop the operations if there is something required to fix for everyone to work safely. When safety becomes a way of life, productivity will increase and accidents will be fewer and more revenue will be realised as safety always pays back.
In a nutshell, safety is not a choice but a way of life for all of us both in business and at home, with clients and with colleagues. A switch to adopt safety as a way of life will make safety practitioners, supervisors and employers in general enjoy their sleep at night knowing that employees will take responsibility of their own safety and that of others as enshrined in a ‘brother’s keeper concept’.
The author is HSE advisor.