Health and Safety is quite rightly a board-level concern within most organisations. As the subject’s prominence has risen, so too has organisational focus on creating policies that best serve the employees within any given company. Whilst health and safety KPIs and policies are often a standard agenda point at board and team meetings, a focus on statistics alone isn’t enough to really make a difference to the number of accidents and near misses. To truly drive improvements, it’s vital to get under the skin of employee attitudes towards safety.

Whilst the move to measuring safety culture is by no means new, it’s now gaining momentum with the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) mandating measurement of safety culture within new occupational health and safety standard, ISO 45001. ISO’s research shows that over 7600 people die each day from work-related accidents or diseases – that’s 2.78 million every year. It’s clear that a step change in approach is required.

Measuring employee attitudes to safety provides specific insight as to the effectiveness of your policies. Your employees probably know what your policies are, but to what extent do they form part of their psyche? Are policies considered a tick in the box item or are they an embedded aspect of your organisation’s culture? Without a measure of culture, it is impossible to produce an answer to these questions – and of course attitudes may vary across your organisation. In order to take positive actions to improve safety it is vital to know where the risks lie, physically and attitudinally.

Uncovering your safety culture

The Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) works hand in hand with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its scientists have developed a number of practical tools that enable organisations to take the next step in improving employee safety, supporting businesses in developing their internal culture in respect to health and safety.

One such tool is the Safety Climate Tool. Developed around ten years ago, the survey-based product is used by a wide variety of businesses to assess the human factors associated with safety culture. By analysing opinion and sentiment from different groups of people around the business, it’s possible to develop very targeted action plans to improve adoption of safety practices, ultimately reducing risk of injury in the workplace. In fact, the tool is already used by organisations as varied as Pepsico, Tarmac, E.on, Network Rail and Heinz.

Identifying your risk points

The ability to break down data for different groups means that health and safety professionals can identify where the most significant risks lie within the workforce, whether that’s inter-department, amongst the contractor base or pinpointing particular sites that are less engaged.

Having access to engaging materials makes a big difference in driving home key safety messages - and having those materials in a range of formats enables businesses to take account of different ways of working. For instance, interactive intranet content might be a big hit amongst office-based staff, but a face-to-face guided discussion might work better for teams of people working in the field. By tailoring your approach to engaging employees on safety issues, you stand to make a greater impact on their adoption.

Working globally has led the HSL to develop materials in 42 different languages – this approach has worked really well for multi-national organisations keen to compare safety engagement within different territories, or indeed to capture the views of those employees whose first language isn’t English. Local culture frequently has an impact upon safety culture and using the Safety Climate Tool enables organisations to quantify the difference in order to prioritise the actions required to improve.

Implementing best practice

Insight enables effective action. In identifying those parts of your organisation that are really embracing good safety practices, it is possible to create internal champions and case studies that have real meaning throughout your organisation.

Understanding how you benchmark with other organisations also helps to provide context for your safety culture results. The HSL provides a benchmark report for all SCT users, demonstrating how their culture compares with that of other organisations. They also produce industry-specific reports, so that companies can get a feel for how their company compares with its peers.

Many companies use ISO as the benchmark standard, enabling organisations to have confidence that they are adopting best practice for their employees. Any companies looking to progress to ISO 45001 will need to carefully consider how to assess safety culture in order to achieve the standard. By measuring employee sentiment, companies stand to make much bigger strides to reducing accidents and improving the safety of their people.