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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

Safety culture research

TIM BENTLEY and DAVID TAPPIN report on recent safety culture research by the Healthy Work Group.

Safety culture is an increasingly important concept within the OHS field, reflecting a shift towards understanding and preventing safety and health problems at the macro organisational level.

Massey University’s Healthy Work Group has undertaken a number of recent New Zealand studies on safety culture. These studies have included an analysis of how OHS practitioners (recruited through the Safeguard forum) understand and value the concept of safety culture, and the perceived practical value of safety culture to their practice.

We have also developed and evaluated a qualitative health and safety culture assessment tool for use with smaller organisations with insufficient staff numbers to make safety climate tools effective – and where there is need to dig deeper into one or more aspects of safety culture that the organisation has identified as a problem.

The tool considers the level of safety culture advancement for 10 key aspects of safety culture and results in an analysis of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the organization for each of the 10 aspects.

The Healthy Work Group has also considered the role of safety culture in ergonomics, and for the first time considered the issue of incorporating safety culture into ergonomics practice.

Abstracts from these three studies are provided below:

Health and safety practitioners’ perceptions of safety culture:

While the safety culture literature has grown in abundance during the past two decades, virtually nothing has been published on the perceptions of health and safety practitioners on the concept of safety culture.

This paper reports findings from a web-based survey of 100 New Zealand occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals, which explored respondents’ perceptions of safety culture.

The study found that respondents had high levels of perceived understanding about the concept, although safety culture appears less well understood within the organisations where they work. Respondents believed that the concept of safety culture had high practical value to their organisation, and the majority had sought to assess and/or improve the safety culture of their organisation. Implications for practice are discussed.

Bentley, T.A., Jackson, D., and Tappin, D. Occupational health and safety professionals’ perceptions on the concept of safety culture. Submitted to Journal of Occupational Health, Safety and Environment.

Evaluation of a framework for understanding the development of organisational safety culture:

This paper reports findings from a case study evaluation of a framework for understanding the development of organisational safety culture.

The focus of the study was a publicly owned New Zealand utility organisation. The aims of the study were to determine the level of development for a number of aspects of safety culture, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the framework for understanding level of safety culture advancement in the case study organisation.

Methods included an employee survey involving two focus groups and 23 semi-structured face-to-face interviews with a sample of management, employee and contractor respondents.

Key findings included low levels of employee involvement in health and safety; shortcomings in communication around all aspects of health and safety; a poor reporting culture; poor quality accident and incident investigations; and a limited model of causation.

The paper details findings for one of the 10 aspects assessed, “health and safety reporting”, to illustrate the assessment process. The framework was found to be an excellent tool for analysis of level of safety culture development in the case study organisation, acknowledging the multi-dimensional and dynamic nature of safety culture, and allowing for the identification of strengths and weaknesses for different aspects of safety, giving direction for advancement in these areas.

Bentley, T.A. and Tappin, D. (2008). Qualitative evaluation of a measure of organizational safety culture. Journal of Occupational Health and Safety, Australia and New Zealand, 24, 213-220.

Incorporating organisational safety culture within ergonomics practice:

This paper conceptualises organisational safety culture and considers its relevance to ergonomics practice. Issues discussed in the paper include the modest contribution ergonomists and ergonomics as a discipline have made to this burgeoning field of study, and the significance of safety culture to the systems approach. The relevance of safety culture to ergonomics work with regard to the analysis, design, implement, and evaluate process, and implications for participatory ergonomics approaches, are also discussed.

Finally, a potential user-friendly, qualitative approach to assessing safety culture as part of ergonomics work is presented, based on a recently published conceptual framework that recognizes the dynamic and multidimensional nature of safety culture.

The paper concludes by considering the use of such an approach, where an understanding of different aspects of safety culture within an organisation is seen as important to the success of ergonomics projects.

Bentley, T.A. and Tappin, D. (2010). Incorporating organisational safety culture into ergonomics practice. Ergonomics, 53, 1167-1174.

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