A culture of health and safety

14 Aug 2019

All Kiwi workers have the right to safely return home at the end of each working day. But a sobering fact is that New Zealand has more workplace-related injuries, near misses and fatalities in comparison to other similar developed countries like Australia, UK and Canada.

Why is this?

Our rate of workplace incidents reflects a widespread pattern of values and behaviours that create environments where accidents are more likely to occur. New Zealand is a hardworking nation that will put in the hard yards to get the job done, but this is often with a number 8 wire/“she’ll be right” mentality. It is this attitude that can lead workers to improvise, take shortcuts or unnecessary risks that may not be in accordance with safety protocols, putting themselves and others in potentially dangerous situations. When we look at the statistics, it is evident that accidents are happening across all workplace environments (including roads) across New Zealand, which means everyone is at risk.  

Culture is key

Like a lot of things, internal culture plays an important role in our attitudes towards health and safety. Being a nation strongly governed by tall poppy syndrome, Kiwis tend to stick the norm. In a workplace environment, if a culture of health and safety is not established, workers tend to think and do what their colleagues are doing. And if there are bad behaviours or mindsets in play, the culture becomes self-perpetuating, particularly as new employees are onboarded and immersed into it.

The flipside of this situation is that while culture can have a negative impact on workplace health and safety, it can also have an incredibly positive impact, resulting in less incidents and a happier, healthier staff. 

Effecting positive cultural changes

There are a number of key things that impact culture:

  • Routines. These are daily, expected behaviours and actions. For example, reading the hazards board each morning or walking through a warehouse within set walkways. Culture will either ensure these are met or ignored.
  • Organisational structure. Formal reporting or supervision lines including who the decision-makers are. These people typically set the tone and behaviours for employees to follow and therefore have a responsibility to create a culture of health and safety through leading by example. 
  • Power structure. This is the informal structure; organisational leaders who have influence over others but are not necessarily in a position of supervision. This group often has greater ability to lead by example as their opinions and behaviours carry a lot of weight. 
  • Controls. The formal rules, systems and processes in place. Often the actions of the people in the power structure have significant influence over whether these controls are adhered to or ignored. 

In a lot of cases, often these key things are already in place but not well communicated. There are many studies that talk about the criticality of communications in cultivating a positive, high-functioning workplace culture and we’ve seen first hand how important it is. If your workplace has a poor health and safety record and you’re seeing attitudes and behaviours that are impacting the culture, one of the first areas you may want to look at is how the business is communicating across its staff.  

The workers in the power structure group who have natural leadership and influence over others is also a good place to start. Particularly if the formal supervisors and managers are already displaying the right behaviours. Canvassing the opinions of this group and enabling them to have some say in decisions that are being made around health and safety practices will better facilitate their buy in, which should flow through to the rest of the workforce. There are a number of health and safety courses we provide that may be beneficial for key employees to undertake so they better understand their roles and responsibilities as influencers. 

Help is available

No two workplaces are the same. They all have their own set of individuals, cultures, challenges, and hazards. But regardless of where you work or what your business is, culture is central to ensuring your workplace is safe. We are here to help, whether it be through the courses we provide or simply to work with you to develop an action plan to establish a culture of health and safety within our workplace. Have a chat to your Axiom account manager, or give our helpdesk a call - 0800 267 476.