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Raising the standard in safety culture: ISO 45001

26 October 2018

Health and safety is not just the responsibility of a management team or department. Sharing that responsibility amongst all employees is the first step in influencing organisational culture. Workers must actively participate in the development and ongoing management of health and safety systems. In this article, Mike Wood of Acclaim looks at how to change the safety culture within an organisation, with specific reference to ISO 45001.

A new occupational health and safety standard - with a new focus

Health and Safety is quite rightly a board-level concern within most organisations. As the subject’s prominence has risen, so too has organisational focus on creating policies that can make a real difference to employees within their specific setting. Whilst health and safety KPIs and policies are often a standard agenda point at board and team meetings, a focus on statistics alone isn’t enough to significantly reduce the number of accidents and near misses. To truly drive improvements, it’s vital to get under the skin of employee attitudes towards safety.

Whilst the monitoring of safety culture is by no means a new trend, it’s one that is now gaining momentum. In March this year, the eagerly-awaited ISO 45001 standard was launched by the International Standards Organisation. ISO’s research shows that over 7600 people die each day from work-related accidents or diseases – that’s 2.78 million every year. It’s clear that a step-change in approach is required. The new ISO 45001 standard builds on some of the criteria held within previous standards, such as OHSAS 18001, but with an important new emphasis: there is a shift from policy implementation to policy adoption.

The reason for this is simple. To truly effect change within an organisation, it is vital that employees have safety principles ingrained in their day-to-day actions. Whether that’s simple steps such as putting lids on hot drinks or prohibiting mobile phone use on stairs for office-based staff, or following critical procedures for operating heavy machinery, simply publishing and communicating a policy isn’t enough – employees need to feel it. Establishing and developing a strong safety culture has been proven to hold the key to improving employee safety, hence the recognition of culture within ISO 45001.

Key areas addressed by ISO 45001

ISO 45001 covers a range of elements designed to help organisations to tangibly improve their health and safety performance. These include:
* Developing and implementing occupational health and safety policies and objectives
* Establishing systematic processes that regularly consider the organisation’s risks, opportunities, market changes and legal obligations, and the impact on health and safety policy
* Determining potential risks and hazards and taking clear actions to eliminate them where possible, or put in place controls to minimise their potential effects
* Increasing awareness of health and safety risks amongst its people
* Evaluating health and safety performance and seeking to improve it using clear actions
* Ensuring workers take an active role in health and safety matters

Why adhere to ISO 45001?

Whether an organisation is large or small, it has a responsibility for minimising harm to the people that may be affected by its activities. This alone can be a challenge when you consider that many companies have varying levels of engagement with or control over the groups for which they have responsibility. For instance, directly employed workers are likely to take on safety practices more readily - as they are more frequently exposed to those practices - than contractors or visitors. Communication of safety practices can be more complex when you have workers who are new or less regularly on site, and it becomes vital not only to make communication across all groups more effective, but also to ensure that all staff are behaving appropriately, to provide an example that can be followed by newcomers and contractors.

Adhering to international standards, such as ISO 45001, is not a legal requirement. However, it is a clear demonstration to workers, stakeholders and prospective customers alike that your organisation is serious about protecting its workforce – something that is frequently sought after within supply chains and procurement processes – and it holds the ability to provide real differentiation.

Uncovering your safety culture

Health and safety is not just the responsibility of a management team or department. Sharing that responsibility amongst all employees is the first step in influencing organisational culture. Workers must actively participate in the development and ongoing management of health and safety systems, to ensure it becomes part of the company ‘psyche’.

With a much greater emphasis on engaging workers on health and safety, improving culture and measurement of performance, it’s clear that a mechanism for measuring culture is vital. However, by nature culture is intangible, presenting a challenge for those organisations working towards ISO 45001.

One way of approaching this challenge is to use relevant surveys and tools. The Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) works hand in hand with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its scientists have developed a number of practical tools that enable organisations to take the next step in improving employee safety, supporting businesses in developing their safety culture.

One such tool is the Safety Climate Tool (SCT). Developed around ten years ago, the survey-based product is used by a wide variety of businesses to assess the human factors associated with safety culture. By analysing opinion and sentiment from different groups of people around the business, it’s possible to develop very targeted action plans to improve adoption of safety practices, ultimately reducing risk of injury in the workplace. In fact, the tool is already used by hundreds of organisations as varied as Pepsico, Tarmac, E.on, Network Rail and Heinz.

The SCT report provides a clear view as to the extent that safety policies are adopted, providing that all-important trackable metric, which acts as a leading KPI indicator. Respondent data can be grouped to help identify those areas where more action might be needed to reinforce policies or encourage greater engagement, be that amongst certain territories, departments or contractors.

Because the SCT produces a trackable metric, it is straightforward to benchmark performance against that of other companies, providing some context. Sector-specific reports have been created for 17 different industries and special interest groups, enabling organisations to assess their results within their peer group.

Making a difference


In developing your approach to engaging staff and measuring culture, there are several items to consider.

Segmentation: In order to take positive actions to improve safety, it is vital to know where the risks lie, physically and attitudinally. The ability to break down data for different groups means that health and safety professionals can identify where the most significant risks lie within their workforce, whether that’s inter-department, amongst the contractor base or pinpointing particular sites that are less engaged.

Multi-platform materials: Having access to engaging materials makes a big difference in driving home key safety messages - and having those materials in a range of formats enables businesses to take account of different ways of working. For instance, interactive intranet content might be a big hit amongst office-based staff but a face-to-face guided discussion might work better for teams of people working in the field. By tailoring the approach to engaging employees on safety issues, companies stand to make a greater impact on their adoption.

Global/regional materials: Language can also be a barrier to widespread implementation of safety practices where organisations operate multi-nationally. It’s important that these businesses look for tools and surveys that are available in different languages to get a truly unbiased view of culture cross-territory and optimise engagement. Comparing safety engagement within different territories can be fascinating. Local culture frequently has an impact upon safety culture and tools like SCT help organisations to quantify the difference and prioritise the actions required to improve.

Internal champions: Insight enables effective action. In identifying those parts of your company that are really embracing good safety practices, it is possible to create internal champions and case studies that have real meaning throughout your organisation.

Lead vs lag indicators

Measuring safety culture, as opposed to accident and near miss statistics, represents a real shift from using ‘lag’ indicators, which only track progress after the event, to using a leading indicator – one that flags a potential issue. In tracking leading indicators for safety, companies are far better equipped to intervene appropriately to mitigate risks and improve employee safety.

Many companies use ISO as the benchmark standard – it’s a mark of best practice, giving confidence to employees as well as other stakeholders. Any companies looking to progress to ISO 45001 will need to carefully consider how to assess safety culture in order to achieve the standard. By measuring employee sentiment, companies stand to make much bigger strides to reducing accidents and improving the safety of their people.

About the author


Mike Wood is Product & Technology Director at Acclaim.


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