“The first duty of business is to survive and the guiding principle of business economics is not the maximisation of profit – it is the avoidance of loss…” Peter Drucker
Health and Safety can be regarded as a profit centre.
Reducing incidents and ill health can have a direct effect on the bottom line. Studies published by HSE have shown that 70% of the incidents at work are preventable by good management. Some leading companies go much further and regard all incidents, including ‘near misses’ as preventable. Examination of root causes during investigation bears out this view. Companies following a ‘total loss’ approach learn from the experience they gain in investigation and take steps to ensure that similar problems cannot recur. This is a positive way of bringing risks and costs under control when things have gone wrong.
The term ‘safety culture’ originated in the investigation report following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident. Subsequently the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) refers to the multilevel model of culture that was developed by the distinguished management consultant and organizational psychologist Edgar Schein.
Safety Culture refers to the extent to which every individual and every group of the organization is aware of the risks and unknown hazards induced by its activities; is continuously behaving so as to preserve and enhance safety; is willing and able to adapt itself when facing safety issues; is willing to communicate safety issues; and consistently evaluates safety related behaviour.
Poor safety culture’ has been identified among the causes of numerous high-profile accidents in other industries, such as the Bhopal gas tragedy, fire at King’s Cross underground station; the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise passenger ferry, the passenger train crash at Clapham Junction, the disasters of the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia, the Überlingen mid-air collision accident, and the BP oil refinery accident.
There is no doubting the reasons for pursuing a strong safety culture or indeed the rewards for attaining this goal but the dilemma lies in the how and the challenging journey required to reach it.
As James Reason puts is so succinctly, ‘few things are so sought after and yet so little understood.’
The hard work and dedication to the cause are indicated when he goes on to state that ‘a safety culture is not something that springs up ready-made from the organizational equivalent of a near death experience, rather it emerges gradually from the persistent and successful application of practical and down- to-earth measures.’