Health & Safety Culture in the Workplace: How Strong Do We Want Our Roots?

Kyriakos Koklonis, PhD, Quality & Research Director, Biosafety S.A.

The question that arises is reasonable. What do we mean when we talk about Health & Safety Culture in the Workplace?

According to the Health and Safety Laboratory of the British Health and Safety Executive, the term “HSE culture” first appeared in a 1986 Atomic Energy Commission report investigating the causes of the Chernobyl accident. In 1993, the Nuclear Installation Advisory Committee defined an organization’s safety culture as:

“The derivative of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies and patterns of behaviour, which determine the commitment, style and adequacy of an organisation’s health and safety management”.

Is it complicated? Not at all. It is enough to think that culture is all that makes us behave in such a way that we are… or not… healthy and safe during our work. How well we succeed each time depends on the completeness and direction of that culture.

But it needs attention. We should not confuse the concept of Culture with that of Health & Safety climate. The latter is an essential the expression of the former in a given time window. For example, if we imagine an iceberg, what we see on the surface is climate of Health & Safety, with all the remaining submerged part of the iceberg being Health & Safety Culture. If we imagine a tree, instead of the iceberg, the trunk, branches and leaves create the Climate and the roots of the tree create the Culture. So the question that arises is: Don’t we want these roots to be strong? Don’t we want our tree to bloom and bear fruit, full of health?

Therefore, Culture may not be directly perceived, but it is there, determining the form and outcome of what is subject to our direct perception and related to our Health and in the workplace. It is the expression of an organism’s personality in the specific field and, like any personality, needs cultivation.

Moreover, the definition of the concept of culture in the modern Greek language, as “the spiritual and mental cultivation, the result of a long process of learning and education” is particularly apt and persistent. We are all called to support this cultivation process. Not through theoretical schemes, but in reality, giving it the importance it deserves. Not because it is linked to legislative requirements and punitive practices, but based on empathy for each other, at all structural levels of work.

Basic parameters in the approach to the HSE culture: the way and the time

How can I strengthen the Health and Safety Culture?

By implementing a well-designed and dynamic system, leveraging proven “tools” and processes and with expanded and multi-level participation.

When do we start?

Now…We don’t wait for the accident to happen, instead we act proactively. In any case, of course, we correct ourselves dynamically, with each correction not exhausting itself in a “sprinkling of the leaves” but in the protection and strengthening of the roots of the tree. With the awareness that it is a continuous process that requires time, resources and above all a positive attitude towards their disposition, away from perceptions of the type “maybe it will happen to you…maybe not…”. After all, if we take into account the words of the Little Prince:

“It is the time you have spent on your rose that makes your rose so important”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Especially if this rose is our health and safety and the one that will prevent any kind of injury from an accident.

When does this crop bear fruit?

When an employee supports and encourages others to work safely, when they adopt safe work practices without being watched, when decisions about Health & Safety are made at the appropriate level each time and mostly implemented, and when the organization enjoys the benefits of a Health & Safety system, in the sense of the organization extending beyond employers and employees, becoming part of the society…the forest in which we all want to live.



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