Written by 6:00 am Feature, Service Operations

Field Service Think Tank Sessions: A Workplace Safety Culture

It’s a shift prompted by stringent regulation and legislation – particularly in the UK and Europe – and a desire to build health and safety into the business structure. As part of our coverage of the latest FSN Think Tank Mark Glover reflects on how the group discussed workplace safety and why culture is crucial…  

When it comes to an implementing a workplace safety culture, companies must lead from the top with a board and management buy-in that filters down through the organization to the shop floor.  

Its integration however is a huge business challenge, a process that firms should viewed as a strategic change management process. Of course, any large shift in thinking and mentality is difficult, especially if an attitude has become embedded.  

Two things that can alter attitudes to safety is understanding the brand and financial cost to a company if an incident occurs. In the UK stringent legislation and heavy fines serve to encourage firms to take their safety processes seriously, it means some companies now build the potential consequences of an incident into a business case that forms their health and safety strategy. 

One example of this is the utility firm EDF who operate a number of power stations in the UK. These assets are high-risk and high-profile, and the firm in an effort to embed safety into the culture of the organization now associate health and safety with its bottom line; if you have a nuclear power station that is not inherently safe then it will affect its share price quite significantly.   

A financial influence is one strand of safety adoption, yet to become embedded in a company’s outlook, health and safety should be approached psychologically. Today, when health and safety consultants come into a company tasked with improving its culture, they do so with the mind of a psychologist rather than a tick-box instigator.    

Firms with a large employee count, which is often the case in manufacturing, can find it difficult to home in on individuals who have always done safety a certain way which can often be outdated and potentially dangerous.  

“More generally, health and safety suffers from bad PR, perceived as something that enforces red tape and stifles creativity and productivity…”

Psychologically then, humans will eventually apply an unconscious bias to tasks they carry out on a day-to-day basis. Once something becomes routine then it becomes an unconscious process. Carrying out risk assessments is a common yet important task in the workplace however Its repetitive nature makes it vulnerable to such a bias, and it remains one of the key challenges in the sector to ensure employees are engaged when carrying out such activities.   

Jan Van Veen, founder, More Momentum commented, “What you need to do to change that is make sure that everybody understands the pitfalls and then establish key habits and put a system in place where you can communicate effectively with your workforce to say ‘I think we are falling in this pitfall’.” 

Building on this point Mark Wilding, Director of Global Aftermarket Operations, Hexagon Marketing Intelligence added: “One of the thing that we looked at that I think we overlook quite a lot is the human factors associated with this, because there are, and you talked about stress, there are human factors in people’s day that cause them to overlook or make mistakes, which ultimately could end up in a hazard or a risk.   

And if you don’t get underneath the human factors aspect then we can put all the safety bulletins out but we’ve not addressed the underlying distractions, things that go on. 

More generally, health and safety suffers from bad PR, perceived as something that enforces red tape and stifles creativity and productivity. Although this attitude has improved in recent years it is still seen as something of a burden to employees; something to catch them out. Having a pragmatic approach to health and safety that is backed up with strong statistical evidence, can be a sensible approach rather than introducing a critical author with a clipboard.   

Looping back to the beginning of this section, it’s paramount to embed health and safety in a company’s overall strategy and a firm’s performance culture more generally. Most service firms strive to achieve general quality and integrity in everything they do and would never dream of cutting corners in a service task. The same thinking must be applied to safety.  

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