Occupational health and safety is a field concerned with the welfare, health, and safety of people whilst they’re at work. Whilst many individuals know the basics of health and safety practices in their workplace, accidents still occur across different occupational environments in the UK and worldwide.
Statistics from the Health and Safety Executive for the UK reveal that 565,000 workers sustained non-fatal injuries whilst at work in 2021 and 2022. During this same time frame, 123 workers also died as a result of work-related accidents.
On top of this, six million working days were lost due to non-fatal workplace injuries, and a total of 30.8 million were lost as a result of work-related ill health.
Whilst health and safety guidelines and practices are promoted in workplaces across the globe, it’s the culture surrounding safety and welfare that plays a much larger role in influencing employee health and well-being than many may realise. Therefore, it’s important that employers, and governing bodies, are promoting positive health and safety cultures in working environments to avoid workplace injuries and to protect the welfare of employees across all professions.
In this article, we highlight the importance of health and safety culture in the workplace and explore how this can be monitored and improved to ensure the well-being of all employees.
Whilst health and safety generally involves the guidelines and procedures that are in place to support the welfare of individuals, health and safety culture surrounds the mindset that groups of people have in relation to this.
According to the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Nuclear Installations (ACSNI), the definition of the safety culture in an organisation is as follows:
“...the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organisation’s health and safety management”.
In short, health and safety culture in the workplace involves what employees both believe and perceive health and safety to be, which later contributes to how they act in the workplace in line with its guidelines and practices.
When there’s a positive health and safety culture in the workplace, employees will be more inclined to behave in line with health and safety guidelines. But, should there be a negative health and safety culture, employers increase their risk of encountering more work-related accidents or illnesses.
Therefore, the aim of all workplaces and employers should be to promote a positive health and safety culture amongst employees to help protect their welfare by minimising work-related accidents and illnesses and preventing absences.
Making sure that employees within your business have a positive attitude towards health and safety is key to ensuring that risks to your employees’ well-being are minimised and that everyone complies with the rules and regulations set out by law, such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Employers who are positively influencing health and safety culture in the workplace by actively making improvements to their work environments demonstrate real effort and commitment to supporting the welfare of their staff.
According to HSE, there are six main benefits of a positive health and safety culture at work. These are as follows:
These benefits ensure that the well-being (both mental and physical) of employees is maintained and that critical accidents and injuries are avoided in the workplace which can, in some cases, be fatal.
Equally, a positive health and safety culture can reap rewards for the employer such as creating a competitive advantage and improving company reputation, as aforementioned.
Before making active efforts to promote a positive health and safety culture at work, it’s first important to establish how developed your employees’ understanding of health and safety culture is.
A health and safety culture questionnaire, filled out by observing day-to-day observations or carrying out an internal survey with staff members, is a great way to assess the current safety climate of a workplace to establish a baseline and identify any problem areas that might arise.
There are also assessments available for employers to objectively measure their safety culture at work, including one of the most well-known in the UK which we’ve delved into in more detail about below.
Offered by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Climate Survey Tool (CST) is an online questionnaire that provides a good template from which you can measure safety culture within your organisation and get an idea of existing attitudes towards safety procedures.
Once you’ve got an idea of the current climate around safety within your business, you can start to create a plan for how you will begin to shift toward a more positive attitude, as well as improve and raise current health and safety standards, at work. All plans will require considerable forethought, as a company-wide attitude shift will likely take a while to take effect.
The Safety Culture Maturity Model is a good framework for charting where the shift needs to come from within the business. This starts with management and flows outwards into key levels of the business until everyone has bought into the new approach to safety.
Each business will need to take a bespoke approach to how they can best improve the safety culture within their workplace, but there are some common ways that they can achieve a more positive attitude to safety:
Negative indicators of health and safety culture are factors which point to a poor health and safety culture within a workplace. These can be several different contributors, but each plays a considerable role in contributing towards a poor workplace environment where the health and safety culture is not positive, and health and safety performance is not as high as it could be.
If you are struggling with issues in your company relating to health and safety, the chances are that it may be a negative health and safety culture that is contributing to this, which is likely to be caused by negative indicators.
Here are three factors that may be contributing to a poor health and safety culture in your workplace:
On the opposite end of the spectrum, positive indicators of health and safety culture illustrate the factors that demonstrate effective health and safety in the workplace. We’ve highlighted three examples of positive indicators of health and safety culture below to give you a rough idea of the types of factors which indicate a good health and safety environment within a workplace:
To improve the health and safety culture of an organisation, companies must do their best to mitigate any negative indicators and promote any positive indicators of health and safety culture that they may have identified in their workplace.
There are three key elements that are required for a successful safety-conscious culture. Companies which prioritise these are actively working to improve health and safety culture in their workforce. These elements are as follows:
The management team should be responsible for creating and maintaining a positive health and safety culture in the workplace. Employees who directly report to managers will likely be influenced by their approach and attitudes to health and safety, so it’s incredibly important that managers promote a positive health and safety culture at work.
A culture of blame within health and safety involves employees feeling that they will be held accountable in a negative way for their actions. This may lead employees to be less likely to report any errors within the business, posing a risk to health and safety if dangerous issues are not raised.
This can contribute to poor health and safety and is considered to be one type of negative indicator of a health and safety culture.
Promoting a positive health and safety culture, regardless of your industry, is critical to ensuring the welfare of your workforce is prioritised. We hope that this article has offered you the insight you need to understand what the indicators of a poor and positive health and safety culture are. From this information, you should now know how you can strengthen your health and safety culture to ultimately improve the well-being of your staff.
If you’re interested in training your staff on safer ways of working and promoting a standard for safety training within your business, our IOSH Working Safely course covers all the essentials of health and safety and gives staff a solid grounding for understanding their responsibilities when it comes to making your business a safe place to work.