Safety Climate, Culture, Leadership and why its all related


Safety climate, culture and leadership at first glance all sound like the same thing but in order to gain a better understanding of each of these, we break this down with the help of some great resources from Workplace Health & Safety QLD’s Safety Leadership at Work Program.

Safety Leadership

We all know that good safety leaders are crucial for an organisation as they exhibit a strong commitment to safety and lead by example.

Safety leaders get involved and inspire others to have positive safety behaviours. Safety leaders can exist at all levels from senior executives, middle managers to informal leaders among workers. Leaders are important in any organisation as they provide direction in terms of planning and supervision. 

Great safety leaders will inspire others to have a positive attitude towards safety and by demonstrating consistent behaviour they can influence the safety climate and over time have an impact on the safety culture.

What is Safety Climate?

Safety climate is the perceived value placed on safety in an organisation at a particular point in time often referred to as the ‘mood’ of an organisation, based on what workers experience at a specific time. 

A negative safety climate can quickly become toxic, and can greatly increase the risk of incidents. If workers don’t consider safety an organisational priority, then they are unlikely to treat it as such.

As safety climate captures the attitudes towards safety at a specific point in time, it is a useful indicator of safety performance. The climate can change rapidly, on a daily or weekly basis. These perceptions and beliefs can be influenced by the attitudes, values, opinions and actions of other workers in an organisation.

For example, safety climate might be heightened after implementing a new safety procedure or after an incident. If that heightened safety climate is maintained over time, it can lead to changes in the underlying culture.

What is Safety Culture?

Safety culture embodies the value placed on safety and the extent to which people take personal responsibility for safety in an organisation. Safety culture is often described as the ‘personality’ of an organisation, as it is a shared value of safety.

Safety culture is just one aspect of an organisation’s broader culture. Culture forms naturally wherever there are groups of people working together to achieve a common goal. Organisational culture is invisible as most people aren’t consciously aware of the shared beliefs and assumptions that influence their behaviour.

An example of how you might experience safety culture is when you start work in a new organisation. Initially, as a new employee you would try to gain an understanding of the safety practices in your organisation. At first you would be guided the written rules, procedures, and training you have been given. You would also look to your colleagues and leaders, watching what they say and how they act. Based on this information and observations you would come to understand the safety culture of the organisation.

A positive safety culture exists when employees understand the importance of safety and exhibit positive safety behaviours. Examples of positive safety behaviours include wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) without being asked, completing risks assessments for all jobs and reporting all incidents. If an organisation has a negative safety culture, safety may be seen as unnecessary and may lead to poor safety practices like taking shortcuts and/or choosing to ignore safety hazards.

A 2018 survey of Australian workers found one in ten were afraid to report a safety breach over fears it would cost them their job, and one in five said they had made a safety complaint that was never acted on. Furthermore, an alarming 17 percent of respondents said a colleague had been fired after being hurt in the workplace *.

Safe Work Australia Special Advisor Dr Peta Miller at the time the survey was released laid the blame on employers, telling the ABC that organisations needed to foster workplace cultures that encouraged workers to speak up.

Dr Miller said “Our evidence is showing us that, in fact, most workers will speak up if a positive organisational culture is created, where workers views are respected and listened to.”

Bringing it all Together

To put things in simple terms (as we know this is not a simple topic) through the actions of safety leaders and investing in safety leadership, we can start to influence the safety climate, and over the long term, build a positive safety culture. 

If we keep up our safety leadership efforts, it will eventually cause people to reassess their deep beliefs and values about safety and start to have a positive effect of the safety culture. 

Source: Workplace Health & Safety QLD; * Shine Lawyers, Health and Safety Survey, 2018

If you are in QLD and would like to find out more information about the WHSQ Leadership at Work Program visit their website or alternatively speak to us today about options to work together towards a positive culture. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]