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Promoting a

positive culture
A guide to health and safety culture
IOSH publishes a range of free Promoting a positive culture – a This guide refers to UK law, statistics
guide to health and safety culture and examples. The general principles
technical guidance. Our This guide provides an overview of the and advice apply outside the UK, but if
guidance literature is designed principles of a positive safety culture you’re reading this in a non-UK
and looks at improving safety culture context, you should be aware of
to support and inform
and behaviour through leadership and possible differences and may need to
members and motivate and worker involvement. It provides some use data from your own country.
indicators of a positive safety culture
influence health and safety
and outlines ways of improving safety If you have any comments or questions
stakeholders. culture, as well as describing some of about this guide, please contact
the elements needed to develop a Research and Information Services at
positive culture. IOSH:
- t +44 (0)116 257 3100
The guide includes case studies as - researchandinformation@iosh.co.uk
examples of how safety cultures can be
improved and what can be achieved PDF versions of this and other guides
with a positive safety culture. are available at www.iosh.co.uk/

Our materials are reviewed at least

once every three years. This document
was last reviewed and revised in
March 2014.

1 Overview 02
2 Towards a positive health and safety culture 03
3 IOSH guidance 09

References 11
Further reading 12

1 Health and safety risk management 02
2 Safety Culture Maturity® model 05
3 Safety culture change process 08

Case studies
1 Using the Health and Safety Climate Survey Tool 06
2 CHEP – a win–win situation 07
3 Partnership working to improve
health and safety culture 09
4 Health and safety training and
communicating information 10
1 Overview

It’s now generally recognised that The challenge is how to have a positive Although many of the references in
health and safety management should influence on an organisation’s health this guide concentrate on ‘safety’
embrace – in a holistic way – the and safety culture. It’s hard to change rather than ‘health’ cultures, the
interactions between the working the attitudes and beliefs of a workforce lessons are equally applicable to issues
environment, equipment, systems and by direct persuasion, but by acting of workplace health. Indeed, because
procedures, and the people in the safely workers can start to think safely.3 the links between poor workplace
organisation. This belief has led to the development practices and resulting ill health can be
of ‘behavioural safety’ approaches. less clear and enforceable than those
Effective risk management depends Remember that culture often develops relating to poor safety conditions and
partly on the behaviour of individuals slowly, and that fundamental change resulting injuries, the cultural issues
in an organisation. A significant requires time. linked to work-related health are
number of accidents can be traced to arguably even more important than
unsafe behaviours. Poorly designed Health and safety professionals must those affecting workplace safety.
equipment or operations, poor systems aim to apply current thinking in a
and poor working conditions can all practical way to achieve healthier and
encourage unsafe behaviours, but safer working environments. This IOSH
these behaviours are not inevitable. An guide offers some pointers to healthier
organisation’s attitudes and values and safer working by describing some
regarding safe working are important aspects of a good health and safety
factors that influence its approach to culture and suggesting some steps that
work and ultimately its health and you and your organisation can take to
safety performance. Put another way, improve it.
it’s not enough to provide safe
equipment, systems and procedures if
the culture doesn’t encourage healthy
and safe working.

Safety culture has been defined1 as

consisting of shared values (what is
important) and beliefs (how things
work) that interact with an
organisation’s structure and control Working Systems
systems to produce behavioural environment Management
standards (the way we do things round Plant and systems and
here). A poor health and safety culture equipment procedures
is likely to lead to weaknesses due to integrity
problems at the person–work interface
– perhaps because of poor training or
communication. People and
A poor culture encourages an Culture and
atmosphere where not complying with competence
safe working practices is acceptable,
and it doesn’t help the organisation to
take effective action to solve health
and safety problems. Quite often,
organisations that have a poor safety
culture can have the same underlying
attitude to all process and procedures.
This can result in poor product quality Figure 1: Health and safety risk management: managing the risks
and financial control as well as poor associated with interactions between the working environment, the
health and safety.2 management systems, the organisation and its people

2 Towards a positive health and safety culture

A culture is a way of doing things that that are too low to be used as a basis the same as the person involved in the
is shared, taught or copied. Everyone in for an improvement plan. incident, this may indicate that it’s not
a particular culture tends to do things appropriate to allocate blame. It may
in a similar way, which they would A prerequisite for a positive safety be better to look at redesigning a
consider to be the norm. Therefore, an culture is good information. In order for process or giving staff more training.
organisation’s safety culture consists of the information to flow, the workforce On the other hand, if the test group
its shared working practices, its needs to be willing to participate and decides that they’d have done things
tendency to accept or tolerate risk, be prepared to report their mistakes, differently, you may need to consider
how it controls hazards and how it near misses and accidents. whether what happened was a
deals with accidents and near misses.3,4 deliberate or negligent act, and
Safety culture can also be described as This willingness will depend on how whether some sort of blame or
a combination of how people feel the organisation investigates incidents punishment is appropriate.
about safety (the safety climate), what and how it handles blame. A blame
they actually do and the policies and culture – one that looks to blame and One way of identifying where you may
procedures the organisation has.5 punish people when things go wrong – need to improve your organisation’s
will encourage very little reporting. On health and safety culture is to assess
A positive safety culture has three key the other hand, a completely no-blame your current safety climate.* Safety
elements:6 culture – one that allows all mistakes or climate surveys describe an
- working practices and rules for errors to go unpunished, including organisation’s culture using factors
effectively controlling hazards those that are reckless or negligent – is such as:
- a positive attitude towards risk not really feasible either, and probably - the degree of leadership in health
management and compliance with won’t be acceptable to the and safety and the commitment to
the control processes organisation or to individual workers. healthy and safe working that is
- the capacity to learn from demonstrated by senior managers
accidents, near misses and safety Therefore, the best safety culture will (eg visibility and close contact with
performance indicators and bring be based on a fair allocation of the ‘shop floor’)
about continual improvement. responsibility.7 In this kind of culture, - how much employees know and
all but the most reckless health and communicate about health and
An organisation can develop standard safety failures can be reported without safety, how committed they are,
safe working practices that comply with fear of retribution. You should and how reliably they attend health
the law and best practice. It can also encourage or even reward reporting. and safety training sessions
create a positive attitude to compliance For this to happen, you’ll need to draw - the extent to which different levels
by making sure that senior managers a clear line between acceptable and of the workforce are involved in the
lead from the front on this. But for unacceptable, reckless behaviour. It’s health and safety improvement
these two elements to work effectively, important that if you do have to process
the organisation needs to learn from attribute blame, this doesn’t - the responsibility which employees
what’s happening in the workplace. undermine the reporting culture. In show for their own and other
Only by being aware of and analysing order to be transparent about people’s health and safety
accidents and near misses is it possible attributing blame, some organisations - the degree of tolerance of risk-
to develop suitable improvements to use a substitution test8 to help decide taking behaviour
safe working practices. whether an incident was due to - how well good health and safety
unacceptable or reckless behaviour. performance is measured and
Organisations also need credible and reinforced
honest safety inspections and reports In a substitution test, a small group of - the arrangements for periodic
so that managers know where they employees who weren’t involved in the reviews of health and safety culture
need to concentrate their efforts. It’s incident are given information about and for implementing improvement
important to include near misses in this the incident and what led up to it, and plans.
analysis, as many organisations have are asked to discuss it. If this group of
levels of reported injuries and ill health people decide that they’d have done

* The distinction between ‘climate’ and ‘culture’ is significant. The former embraces perceptions, attitudes and beliefs about risk and safety, is
typically measured using questionnaires, and provides a ‘snapshot’ of the current state of safety. The latter is more complex and long-lasting, and
reflects more fundamental values.9

By looking at these factors, it’s possible industry-specific tool,14 as part of its An important ingredient of plans to
to build a picture of an organisation ‘Constructing excellence’ campaign. If promote a positive health and safety
and understand how it can improve its you’re planning to assess your culture is ‘organisational learning’ – the
health and safety culture. organisation’s safety culture, you process of involving staff who learn to
should also always ask the opinion of change their ways of thinking and
You can also judge health and safety the employees.12 The action plan that acting as a result of sharing experience
climate by using questionnaires.10 follows can be focused on and addressing shared problems.
Where possible, you should use this organisational changes, training Mutual trust and confidence between
kind of self-reported information programmes or behavioural safety, and managers and workers are needed for
alongside observations of behaviour the survey will help organisations to a strong health and safety culture to
and data gathered in workshops and target resources where they are develop, and it’s vital that managers at
focus groups, as these provide the needed (see case studies on pages 06, all levels accept that health and safety
richer picture which is needed to 07, 09 and 10). is a line management responsibility.
understand the underlying reasons
behind behaviours. You can then use Health and safety culture change is not A review of behaviour modification
the outputs of these assessments to: achieved quickly, and plans to improve programmes has shown that change
- raise awareness of health and safety an existing culture should take into programmes which succeed at one
- judge the organisation’s current account that it will have evolved over a location can fail at another.15 The
attitudes towards health and safety long period. A culture change factors that increase or decrease the
- pinpoint areas that need attention programme is also very unlikely to chance of success have been identified
- assess whether the organisation is succeed unless senior managers are and can be linked to the existing
ready for a behavioural safety committed to leading the change. If culture of the organisation. There’s a
programme you try to change a culture too quickly, ‘maturity’ model for culture16 that can
- provide a baseline that you can you may just generate resistance to it. help you choose and implement the
measure progress against. It’s true that the direction of a culture right behavioural interventions for your
often comes from senior managers, but organisation. Figure 2 shows the five
Safety climate surveys have been it’s important not to overlook stages of this model.
carried out in a number of industries, influential people on the ‘shop floor’.
including offshore11 and nuclear.12 The These can be key people to engage in
UK government has produced a improving a safety culture. You might
generic Health and Safety Climate even be able to persuade them to
Survey Tool,13 as well as a construction become safety champions.

Level 5
re Continually
u ltu
yc improving
vin Level 4
p ro
Im Co-operating
Develop consistency
and fight complacency
Level 3
Engage all staff to
develop co-operation r
Level 2 and commitment to viou
Managing improving safety b eh
Realise the ired
importance of
Level 1 frontline staff and t
Emerging develop personal
Develop responsibility n fo
management rei
commitment cya
g co
a sin

Figure 2: Safety Culture Maturity® model. © The Keil Centre 2001

Safety Culture Maturity is a registered trademark of The Keil Centre Ltd

Case study 1
Using the Health and Safety Climate Survey Tool
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) contacted three For example, the company:
organisations that had used its generic Health and Safety - devised a training programme for supervisors after the
Climate Survey Tool (CST) to obtain feedback. A nuclear CST showed that they weren’t clear about their role in
fuels manufacturer reported that, in order to obtain a health and safety issues
higher response rate, it had: - established teams to review instructions and
- programmed the work to make sure the schedule was procedures after the CST helped to identify that these
achievable and it could report the results quickly were too technical and not appropriate. Work teams
- publicised what it was doing and why, and set targets participated in safety-related activities and a sense of
for response rates pride was created when simplified procedures were
- encouraged employees to complete the survey in work accepted and used as a template across the site. These
time and sent a letter with the CST reminding teams also perceived managers as being committed to
employees why it was being used working together to improve safety and also that
- guaranteed that responses would be treated action was being taken as a result of the CST
anonymously and individual respondents wouldn’t be - set up a site-wide ‘learning from experience’ database,
identified which helped to communicate lessons learned from
- gave respondents envelopes addressed to the near misses or other safety-related activities
contractor carrying out the data analysis, again to - committed itself to continuing to respond to issues
ensure anonymity raised by the CST
- created safety events to reinforce the reason for the - reviewed the near-miss reporting system to ensure
CST and issued the survey immediately afterwards. consistency across the site. The new system
encouraged employees to report near misses in a ‘no-
The company reported that the CST was extremely helpful blame’ context and to take action as a result. Near
in identifying gaps in health and safety arrangements misses are now regularly discussed at safety
and/or risk control, and that it had responded to these. improvement team meetings.

Source: Evaluating the effectiveness of the Health and Safety

Executive’s Health and Safety Climate Survey Tool17

Case study 2
CHEP – a win–win situation
CHEP is the global leader in pallet and container pooling The team turned its attention to the next level down, in
solutions, operating in 46 countries. It handles over 3 terms of severity: ‘modified duty’ and ‘medical treatment’
million equipment movements every day, and serves incidents. This was followed by a new action plan for near
345,000 customers. CHEP offers pallet and container misses. Five years ago, reported near misses were at zero.
supply chain logistics for the consumer goods, fresh Now they are in the thousands, not because more are
produce, meat, home improvement, beverage, raw happening, but because operational teams understand
materials, petrochemical and automotive industries. Across that by reporting what’s happened, they can help
Europe, it employs 2,800 people, with 1,500 in 12 sites in managers to help them prevent things going wrong again.
the UK and Ireland.
Better communication was vital too. Sharing information on
Around six years ago, CHEP UK’s approach to health and incidents, close-outs and corrective actions across Europe
safety in a sector heavily dependent on manual work was meant that improvements came thick and fast. The attitude
less formal. As Hugh Kempton, Health and Safety was, plant to plant, ‘This won’t happen on my patch.’
Manager at CHEP and an IOSH member, explains: “We
thought we were doing OK, but when we benchmarked The programme has seen culture improvements across the
the company against others in the industry we realised board. Absenteeism at the company was above the
that we shouldn’t be complacent.” Lost-time incidents industry average, at between 5.5 and 7 per cent. Now it’s
were running at about 30 a year, and near-miss reporting around 2 per cent. This alone has delivered obvious
wasn’t even on the radar. savings, with a cut in the bill for drafting in temporary
workers to cover absent staff. Motivation is far healthier
The starting point for CHEP UK was an initiative too. Earlier this year, CHEP introduced ‘kaizen’, the
introduced by its Australian parent company, Brambles, Japanese continuous improvement philosophy, and has
known as the ‘Zero harm journey’. The challenge was to seen thousands of ideas coming in.
turn the scheme into a practical, workable tool for
European operations. Hugh Kempton puts the initiative’s success down to
consistent controls, and changing the culture gradually,
The company quickly realised that the new initiative had taking things one step at a time and making sure that
to genuinely involve workers on the ground if it was to be new developments are bedded in before moving on to the
successful. It was also important to make it clear that the next one. “Great buy-in at shop floor level is essential, as
initiative was here to stay, and that it wasn’t just a ‘flash in is senior support. Our Vice-President at the time
the pan’. completely supported the programme and banged the
drum at European level. He took away the barriers.”
The team started by focusing on frontline statistics – lost-
time incidents. Hugh and his colleagues introduced a new Hugh Kempton estimates that cash savings have run well
standard operating procedure across all European sites and into hundreds of thousands of pounds. The initiative has
worked hard to make sure that all incidents were had a positive impact on areas beyond health and safety,
reviewed, and that the root causes were identified, with including “massively improved” retention, motivation,
clear close-outs. Before the new scheme was launched, productivity and quality. The cost of implementing the
the company had a tendency to accept incidents at face programme has been minimal – there was no budget
value, but under the ‘Zero harm’ regime, each one was allocated, with the team expected to finance it from plant
investigated properly and where things didn’t seem right, operations budgets.
they were challenged. One side effect was that
‘mischievous claims’ were brought firmly under control. In
five years, lost-time incidents in UK and Ireland operations
went from an average 30 a year to just one a year.

Source: IOSH Li£e Savings campaign – www.iosh.co.uk/lifesavings

The maturity model mentioned above Information from health and safety
can be combined with the principles of climate surveys and structured
total quality management to build a interviews can be used to identify the
safety culture change process (see current level of health and safety
Figure 3), based on: maturity, and can then help in
- assessing the current level of choosing an appropriate intervention,
maturity such as a health and safety leadership
- developing a plan to move to the or behaviour modification programme.
next level There’s guidance on appropriate
- implementing the plan interventions in ‘Changing minds’,18
- monitoring the implementation along with learning points from several
- re-assessing the level of maturity to behavioural initiatives.
evaluate success and identify more

Improving safety culture

Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4 Level 5

Emerging Managing Involving Co-operating Continually

Figure 3: Safety culture change process

Source: Changing minds18

3 IOSH guidance

IOSH believes that health and safety climate surveys aren’t a substitute for prescription, ‘organisational
professionals need to recognise that a other performance measures and learning’ and joint goal-setting, as
good health and safety culture is an audits, but are a useful complement. well as acknowledging the time that
important part of improving the health it’s likely to take to achieve
and safety performance of the IOSH recommends that employers measurable and permanent change
organisations they advise. They also should: in the health and safety culture
need to appreciate the characteristics - find out what their managers and - take account of the influence of
and benefits of a sound health and employees actually believe about health and safety cultural factors
safety culture (see case studies on pages health and safety, and make clear when assessing the effectiveness of
06, 07, 10 and below). Establishing what’s expected of them in terms of their health and safety management
open reporting of incidents, near misses health and safety values, beliefs, arrangements.19 This is particularly
and concerns, coupled with the concept attitudes and practices important when auditing formal
of ‘fair blame’, is crucial to achieving a - consider the most appropriate health and safety management
positive culture. interventions to address any systems – the system may look
differences between expectations robust on paper, but it’s what actually
Regularly measuring the health and and reality in the organisation’s happens in practice that determines
safety climate of your organisation can health and safety culture. health and safety results.20
yield useful results, allowing you to Organisations need to find the right
target resources appropriately. Such balance between decree,

Case study 3
Partnership working to improve health and safety culture
In a drive to reduce the number of workplace injuries, Major expenses invested in the process included £2.5
illnesses and unsafe behaviours, a gas utilities group million for a ‘safety charity challenge’, where donations
incorporated its health and safety strategy into the overall were made to charity when employees spotted and
business management plan. As well as establishing a eliminated workplace hazards. The company also spent
‘partnership approach’ involving employees and safety £600,000 on safety management and behaviour training.
representatives, the company: As a result, the company saw:
- updated staff each month on issues and improvements - an improved safety culture – including ownership at all
using photos and videos levels, with commitment and competence to improve
- made sure that a manager and safety representative - a reduction in accidents, incidents and injuries of over
investigated lost-time injuries on the day of the 80 per cent; lost-time injuries reduced from 35.5 per
incident, and that any lessons learned were quickly 1,000 staff to 6.6 over five years
communicated to staff - improved incident investigation and procedures to help
- defined the role and responsibilities of line managers prevent incidents happening again
and supported them through a staff performance - increased reporting and resolution of hazards and near
review process and safety management training misses
- set up a hotline for staff to make it easier for them to - a saving of around £4.5 million over four years through
report incidents and hazards reduced lost-time injury rates, including costs from lost
- included health and safety on the agenda of all production, investigation and civil claims
management meetings, and held frequent meetings - staff develop their health and safety leadership skills,
between safety advisers, safety representatives and which are transferable to other business performance
managers areas
- involved safety representatives in joint meetings, - a boost to staff morale and pride as a result of
communications, training, investigations and acknowledging their performance
inspections - an improved reputation with stakeholders.
- made sure that directors supported the scheme
through good communication, attending management
meetings and meeting staff members.

Source: HSE case study – www.hse.gov.uk/business/casestudy/transco.htm

Case study 4
Health and safety training and communicating information
A company in the electricity, gas and water industry different approach, so we’re actively dealing with
described how it was training managers through ‘Safe and [outside consultants] at the moment, who are specialists
unsafe act’ (SUSA) discussions, facilitated by external in that sort of field. So it’s culture-based, trying to get a
consultants. One health and safety manager outlined how step change in culture.”
training line managers was backed up by basic behavioural
safety training for staff: A different approach to behavioural safety was
demonstrated by a medium-sized manufacturing company.
“All our managers are trained in the SUSA technique now… This example highlights how a focus on behavioural safety
But we’re also putting every single one of our operators techniques doesn’t necessarily require expensive external
through a mini-SUSA… as well, so they can start to consultants. The company described its process of staff
understand what… the manager is talking about when he’s observation by in-house assessors – trained in behavioural
got this little blue book out and he starts to talk to them.” safety – to identify ‘unsafe behaviours’ before they
become ‘unsafe acts’:
Another organisation also reported employing outside
consultants. This company wanted external help to introduce “We’ve been running the behavioural safety process now
a behavioural safety approach as a way to change culture. A since 2000… The reason why is that our health and safety
senior manager from a construction company said: performance went through a little bit of a shaky patch for
a year or two and we realised that you can have
“We’re dealing with a company at the moment… and procedures and systems but you also need to be doing
they have a different approach to health and safety. other things. And the processes are very proactive – you’re
Rather than a policing aspect, it is changing culture, actually watching people doing jobs and giving feedback.
where they’ve done a lot of work on oil rigs, and had a So, you’re watching them do things before there’s any
lot of success where if something has gone wrong, you chance of getting hurt, really. If you think about accident
go out and meet people on the job and rather than investigation and near-miss reporting, they’re things that
giving them a bashing if they’re doing something wrong, you do after the event. The observations of behaviour are
finding out why they’re doing wrong. It’s basically a while people are doing tasks normally.”

Source: The impact of health and safety management

on organisations and their staff21


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Further reading

- European Agency for Safety and - European Agency for Safety and - Health and Safety Executive.
Health at Work. Occupational safety Health at Work. Occupational safety Reducing error and influencing
and health culture assessment – A and health and leadership: tools behaviour (HSG48). HSE Books,
review of main approaches and and toolkits. E-Facts 58. https:// 1999. www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/
selected tools. Publications Office of osha.europa.eu/en/publications/ priced/hsg48.pdf.
the European Union, 2011. e-facts/e-fact-58-leadership-tools- - Health and Safety Executive.
https://osha.europa.eu/en/ toolkits. Successful health and safety
publications/reports/culture_ - European Agency for Safety and management (HSG65). HSE Books,
assessment_soar_TEWE11005ENN. Health at Work. Management 2000. www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/
- European Agency for Safety and leadership. https://osha.europa.eu priced/hsg65.pdf.
Health at Work. Worker /en/topics/management- - Health and Safety Executive.
participation practices: a review of leadership/index_html. Strategies to promote safe
EU-OSHA case studies. Publications - European Agency for Safety and behaviour as part of a health and
Office of the European Union, Health at Work. Leadership and safety management system (CRR
2012. https://osha.europa.eu/en/ occupational safety and health 430/2002). HSE Books, 2002.
publications/literature_reviews/ (OSH): an expert analysis. www.hse.gov.uk/research/crr_pdf/
worker-participation-practices-a- Publications Office of the European 2002/crr02430.pdf.
review-of-eu-osha-case-studies. Union, 2012. https://osha.europa. - IOSH. Looking for higher standards:
- European Agency for Safety and eu/en/publications/literature_ behavioural safety – improving
Health at Work. Promoting reviews/leadership-and- performance. IOSH, 2013.
occupational safety and health occupational-safety-and-health- www.iosh.co.uk/freeguides.
through the supply chain. osh-an-expert-analysis. - Reason J. Managing the risks of
Publications Office of the European - Geller S E. The psychology of safety organizational accidents. Ashgate,
Union, 2012. https://osha.europa. handbook. CRC Press, 2000. 1997.

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