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Health and safety management, like all management functions, involves active

leadership from the top. Managers, particularly at senior levels, are an integral part of
organising health and safety and are responsible for delivering and implementing
policies and objectives. In organisational structures, managers provide the link between
the Board and the workforce for effective downward and upward communication of
health and safety. Managers have a direct effect on how health and safety is perceived
by the people they manage, thereby influencing the health and safety culture of an
organisation. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has long recognised managers as
a key influence on organisational health and safety and emphasises the importance of a
proactive approach by managers in establishing the safety culture within organisations.

Poor management of health and safety issues has financial implications for businesses.
A recent survey carried out by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) found that
ineffective management cost UK businesses over 19 billion per year in lost working
hours. The study found that 75% of workers wasted almost two hours each working
week due to inefficient managers. Poor management practices responsible for lost time
include unclear communication, lack of support, micro-management and lack of
direction.

Managers need to demonstrate a positive attitude to health and safety so that it


cascades down the hierarchy to their staff. Managers taking a proactive approach to
health and safety is more cost effective than the reactive approach of dealing with the
outcomes of failure. So how can managers help to promote positive health and safety
culture in their organisations?

What is the health and safety culture of an


organisation?
The culture of an organisation is a reflection of the way in which the organisation operates; it
describes how, where, who, when and why an organisation operates in a particular way. All
organisations can be said to have a culture of some kind. To promote a positive health and safety
culture, everyone in the organisation needs to understand what is meant by health and safety
culture.

The guidance document HSG65 Successful health and safety management, published by the
HSE, defines the safety culture of an organisation as 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.

The culture of an organisation contributes greatly to its health and safety performance. Evidence
indicates that successful organisations have developed positive cultures that promote good health
and safety practices. Having a good health and safety management system can go some way to
setting the scene for developing a good culture, but it goes much deeper than that. A positive
health and safety culture embodies a combination of factors.
Visible leadership and commitment from all levels in the organisation.
Visible evidence that investment is made in health and safety including providing
adequate resources, training, etc.
Good knowledge and understanding of health and safety throughout the organisation.
Clear definition of the culture that is desired and what is required of everyone to achieve
it.
Acceptance across all levels that it is a long term strategy that requires sustained effort
and interest.
Managing competing priorities with health and safety (eg production, quality, etc).
Good communication, up, down and across the organisation.
Existence of a good learning culture the capability and willingness to learn from
experience within and without the organisation.
Setting realistic and achievable targets and measuring performance against them.
Proactive approach allowing opportunities for meaningful involvement of the workforce
in all elements of health and safety.
Ownership of health and safety across all levels in the organisation.

It should be noted that it is difficult to improve culture directly, but this can be done by
improving the factors that influence health and safety culture and managers play a key role in
helping to achieve this.

The role of managers


The attitudes and behaviour of managers is critical in setting the priorities of the organisation.
Some of the ways by which managers can help to promote positive approaches to health and
safety include leading by example, effective communication and engagement with staff,
encouraging a learning culture, promoting a just, no-blame culture, and tracking and
monitoring progress to fight complacency.

Leadership style

Managers communicate the beliefs which underlie an organisations policy through their
individual behaviour and management practice. Managers, particularly senior managers,
communicate powerful signals about the importance and significance of health and safety
objectives if they lead by example. Staff recognise what their managers regard as important and
act accordingly. A managers role should not simply be restricted to directing work and
monitoring compliance with rules and regulations, but should show initiative and proactiveness.
Managers acting as leaders and facilitators encourage suggestions and motivate and engage with
their staff to solve health and safety challenges. In leading by example, managers demonstrate
their commitment to the organisations health and safety objectives, and this filters down to their
staff, who follow suit. This has an overall effect of positively influencing health and safety
culture.

Communication and staff engagement


Managers may have the right approach and keenness to promoting a positive health and safety
culture but this cannot be achieved without effective communication and staff engagement.
Employees play an important role in shaping the health and safety culture of an organisation.
Managers that work with their staff, engage with them regularly, encourage an open door policy
to discuss issues and provide timely feedback generate effective communication within teams.

Proactive communication by managers can be achieved through regular planned meetings, face
to face discussions, health and safety briefings, and so on. Regular communication and staff
engagement enables managers to identify any issues that staff may have at an early stage, eg
competence issues, additional training needs, welfare provisions and facilities, so that these can
be addressed in a timely manner. Active involvement in health and safety empowers staff to take
ownership for health and safety, which is a positive step towards preventing and controlling
hazards.

Promoting a just, no-blame culture

Managers need to promote a just, no blame culture where blame is only used where it is clear
that someone took reckless risks. Managers need to demonstrate care and concern towards staff
when things genuinely go wrong, which will encourage staff to report issues and incidents
without fear.

When investigating incidents reported by staff, managers should have a good understanding of
the mechanism of human error and the ability to assess the degree of culpability. This will help
them to identify not only the immediate causes but also underlying root causes, which are usually
system, organisation or management related, and to take corrective action to prevent the incident
repeating.

Monitoring progress and tracking performance

Continuous reviewing and monitoring of health and safety performance is a positive way of
gauging the health and safety culture in an organisation and a means for improving on existing
processes. Managers need to ensure that reliable performance indicators are in place that reflects
the hazards to which staff are exposed. They need to have a competence assurance program to
ensure that staff have the right skills they need to work safely and help them identify any issues
and establish actions for improvement.

Managers should note that it takes some time to develop a good health and safety culture and it
can be lost easily and in a shorter time than it took to achieve it. Health and safety cultures
continually evolve and continuous effort is required to ensure that changes are positive.
Managers working at improving factors will have a positive influence on their organisations
health and safety culture.