There is myth within companies who believe that when their safety performance or culture is failing then a behavioural safety programme (BSP) will fix all their problems. This is not the case. All companies need to build a health and safety foundation by putting in place the basic principles. Without strong foundations anything built in it will just crumble and fall.  I have seen this all too often.

I started to research this theory when trying to find a subject to write my dissertation on for the MSc in Environmental Health and Safety Management. I eventually came up with a title :- Do companies need to implement a behavioural safety programme in order to change their safety culture?  The tutors started getting very nervous in case I proved that it wasn’t needed, this would have meant all the courses that they ran would no longer be needed.

I believe I proved, in the end, that there are four areas where companies need to focus on first before even thinking about a BSP.  The four areas are:-

  • Leadership Engagement – ensuring safety is led from the top with regular employee contact, whilst being accountable for safety.
  • Employee Engagement – ensuring employees are engaged and involved in safety and that they are empowered to stop if they feel unsafe.
  • Safety Management System – ensuring legal compliance and good policies and procedures.
  • Incident reporting – ensuring all accidents and near misses are reported and these are analysed for trends.

The next stage is to stop saying safety is a priority.  For a safety professional to say this seems strange, but think about it this way; when we say safety is a priority it is management who is saying this not the employee and employees tend to switch off to what they are saying. If we all started saying safety is a value then this changes to individuals wanting to value themselves.  For example if you were to tuck your thumbs in and then try to pick up a pen it is very difficult.  We take things we should value for granted for example our eyes, hearing, hands, arms legs and ultimately our lives.

So when is behavioural safety needed to change a business’s safety culture?  Companies need to conduct a self-assessment to determine if they are ready or not, by reviewing the following areas:-

  • Accident statistics – have they started to fall, plateaued and then start to increase?
  • Near Miss reporting – has reporting started to reduce? Have physical conditions improved in the workplace?
  • Management System – has it been implemented for some time? Is it embedded, owned and audited? Is the MS making a difference and are changes being highlighted in the management reviews?
  • Are leaders and employees fully engaged – Are they living and breathing Safety is a Value?

I strongly believe that if this is not completed it will cost the company a lot of money and could find that their culture is worse than before.

Written by Dawn Hemmings, EHS Lead EMEA, A. Schulman.
Dawn has over 20 years’ experience as a EHS professional in a variety of sectors including; food, drink, construction and automotive working for world class companies such as, Walkers Snack Foods, Caterpillar, Molson Coors, Cummins Diesel Engines, Bentley Motors and latterly A. Schulman. Dawn’s specialist subject is behavioural safety.

 *Please note, the views expressed by the original article author are theirs alone and do not necessarily represent those of Washingtondowling Associates Ltd or The SHE Show and therefore we take no responsibility for the content or accuracy of this post.