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By Jared Kangisser, Chief Executive Officer at KBC Health & Safety

Pinning the blame on an individual employee when mistakes or accidents happen is easy, however, doing so does not contribute to workplace safety in any meaningful way. The damage has already been done. Instead, creating a working environment where everyone shares accountability, and no individual is singled out, is far more beneficial in establishing a highly collaborative, effective, and dynamic safety-focused workforce. But such an environment can only be built on transparency, communication, commitment, and trust.

Safety is not just preventing accidents

A culture of ‘zero harm’ is a critical element for the success of any organisation where safety is a concern. If employees cannot question decisions with which they are not comfortable, or raise concerns about the safety of a situation, this can be detrimental to business and result in an accident or worse, a fatality. This is because a culture of safety is not just about keeping an organisation’s employees from physical harm. Safety must encompass values, attitudes, perceptions, skills, and patterns of behaviour, all of which culminate in the style and proficiency of health and safety management within a company.

While there is the perception that the cost of safety is high, the benefits far outweigh any expense in applying a safety culture within a business. Companies often fall into the trap of thinking that it is enough to simply direct their investment to culture change programmes or initiatives. They do this based on their own assumptions of how to stimulate a behavioural change in their workforce to address safety concerns, instead of flipping the script. Find out what empowerment means to your people, and how they feel that a culture of safety could best be created. Doing this means aligning your organisation and business strategy to the route that the company is taking toward safety. Everyone in the organisation needs to believe in the company’s standpoint toward safety. In high-risk environments, this also needs to extend to contractors and visitors.

Benefits outweigh costs

I believe that the cornerstone for a culture of safety is proper education and training. Often managers and supervisors complain or argue over a three-day safety or Operational Risk Management training intervention. I contest this argument on the basis of time taken to transfer critical knowledge around life-threatening hazards on site.  This does not mean forcing people to sit through a three-day programme consisting of 20 technical videos and a written assessment. It means engaging people creatively on the importance of safety, (through blended learning methodologies designed to enhance adult learning and ensure retention of knowledge) and the benefits that come from prioritising safety.

It means continuously learning and applying the principles of safety. Time spent on safety training should not be seen as wasted because if there is an incident (or worse, a fatality) you are going to lose even more time when that site area is shut down and investigated. You are going to lose investor confidence and you are going to have to do damage control in terms of stakeholder engagement. This costs more time and impacts production more than focusing on safety ever could. Training and induction need to mean more than meeting the minimum requirements of health and safety legislation. Simply ticking the boxes is not effective at preventing incidents. Investing time in a solid foundational education around health and safety principles and the value system of your organisation is far more effective, along with continuous reinforcement on site, through initiatives such as, safety performance coaching and ongoing micro-learning interventions

Practicing safety properly

Here, businesses need to stop worrying about the wrong things. When successfully bringing a zero-harm culture to an organisation, the results are tangible. Results, from an employer or licence holder’s perspective, such as increased productivity along with a dramatic decrease in your liability. While there is still liability, as an employer or mining licence holder, you can rest assured that you have done everything in your power to create an environment that prioritises safety. This means there will be a happier workforce and fewer delays in getting to work.

Additionally, by providing employees with the platform to practice safety properly within the culture of the organisation, this comes with them being able to speak up about their rights. Every worker has a legislative right to raise concerns and stop work if they believe that they are in an unsafe environment, or that there is a risk of an incident. This is where communication and a space where freedom of speech is encouraged becomes critical. Workers need to be able to go to their supervisor without any repercussions or negative outcomes, and say “I do not feel safe, this is the reason why, and I believe we should stop work until we can either eradicate the hazard or manage it effectively.”

This rarely happens in the field. While it is easy to say that we expect our people to stand up and stop work before it happens, in practice, supervisors are pushed for production output, targets and tonnage. This makes it necessary to address the need for safety practices at each level of the organisation, so that supervisors know there will be no negative outcomes if they missed an output target because there was a safety issue within the environment. Similarly, workers need to know they can go to their supervisors. Executives need to be able to push back to stakeholders and affirm that profits cannot be prioritised over safety.

Although this seems to contradict the point of pushing for a high-performance operation in order to meet targets and generate profits, the cost implications of achieving a culture of safety are phenomenal. While the upfront costs of investing in this change might be apparent, as you move your organisation through the levels of maturity toward safety, there will be a reduction in direct and indirect costs. Access to the site will be streamlined; the risk of incidents will be greatly reduced. Productivity goes up, along with employee satisfaction.

A top-down approach

So where does a culture of safety start? At the top, with leadership. If the leaders do not buy into wanting an organisation that genuinely prioritises safety to the extent that it becomes a key pillar or core value of the company, I do not believe that it will ever work. You cannot force individual workers to follow rules in which you yourself do not believe. Once leadership has committed, it becomes easier to gain that commitment all the way down the company ladder. This creates an environment in which the correct equilibrium is struck between profit and people, which ultimately sees people increasing profit, through a culture of safety.

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