In the past there has been much discussion about the development of ‘no-blame’ cultures but the reality is that they don’t work. A no-blame culture is neither feasible nor desirable. People need some level of accountability and accountability is necessary to ensure compliance with legislation and a safe and healthy working environment.

What we should all be striving for is a ‘just culture’. This is based on fairness, engagement and agreement. A just culture gets staff input into the safety process and agreement on what the rules are regarding health and safety. This results in the culpability line being more clearly drawn. In this process there is clear agreement about what the rules regarding safety are; there is clear agreement in responsibility for conforming to those rules; there is clear agreement in any consequences for failing to conform to those rules.

A just culture is not simply about drawing a line – it gives people clarity about who draws the line, and what the rules are. The point of a just culture is to get clarity and agreement about the safety process.

Building a just culture is necessary to get employees involved in the health and safety management system in a meaningful way. They need to feel it is their system. Trust is important if an organisation wants people to share their difficulties and trust around mistakes is critical. Trust is difficult to build and very easy to break.

Despite all the legislation and safety management systems, HSE figures indicate that incident figures are difficult to reduce. One of the main reasons for this is that many employees remain disengaged from the health and safety process. In order to change this, many organisations are now developing behavioural safety programmes aimed at getting employee involvement and input into the safety management system.

A behavioural development programme consists of a number of steps that will be taken at different speeds by different organisations. It is vital that the process is specific to the organisation and that staff play a major part in running the programme. Because the organisation plays a substantial part in the running of the programme and takes ownership from an early stage this has the added benefit of keeping costs down.

For any behavioural process to work, all studies show it is essential that senior management understand the process and give it their full support. And no behavioural system will work without the full support of the line management team. Once again they need to understand the process.

Many managers and supervisors are concerned that the process will lead to criticism of them and a removal of their authority. They need to be reassured on this and to feel that the process will help them manage health and safety more effectively.
We need to explain the importance of health and safety and the importance of staff taking responsibility for health and safety both for themselves and others. Ultimately there is a desire that employees help identify the risks in the work place and help set the safety rules and consequences for not following those rules. The process should focus on the prioritised risks identified by staff and management during a series of presentations and surveys.

Surveys need to be reviewed and a report identifying any quick win issues that can be addressed must be generated. The report should also include an on-going action plan identifying the actions required in developing the behavioural process and ensuring staff input into the safety management system.

The report and action plan should be fed back to staff to keep them involved in the overall process. Where any ‘quick win’ actions have been identified these should be addressed. The importance of the quick win actions is that they can show staff that management is prepared to listen to them and, where appropriate, action will be taken on issues raised.

Cardinus can help you to develop and support you through a successful behavioural development programme. Contact Cardinus Safety Consultancy for more information.

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