It is always in companies and organizations best interests to ensure their duty of care for their employees and customers from a bottom line and a liability perspective. In Canada billions are lost due to employees going on disability due to work related injuries. Even for the high-risk field of humanitarian aid work, there has been an increasing rate of non-governmental organizations being sued and forced to pay out employees due to negligence in ensuring the safety and security of their staff.
In all too many organizations the perception is safety and security training are very inadequate and was primarily focused on avoiding liability rather than actually ensuring employees are prepared to mitigate risk while performing their duties. A factor promoting this perception is how many organizations reportedly have new hires just read a security manual or watch a training video in order to be able to sign off that training had been provided.
So, what can companies and organizations due to ensure the well-being of their employees regardless of where they are operating? Well, there is a myriad of concrete steps that can be done; however, it won’t matter how much money is thrown into training or physical security measures if the organizational culture does prioritize safety and security.
Literature for organizational culture change indicates that firstly an organization must conduct a cultural and risk assessment in order to determine the current strength of their safety culture as compared to the desired state (Mitroussi, 2003; Gagliardi, 1986; Alvesson, 2002; Bernard, 2010). Once the organizational cultural gaps are identified between the current state and the desired state, it must be determined if there is a need for strengthening the current organizational safety culture or whether there is a need for drastic change.
Essential Factors for Change
When reviewing the factors that are vital to successfully strengthening or changing organizational safety culture, the number one element is reportedly senior management leadership (Alvesson, 2002; Mitroussi,2003; Shien, 1990; Turner,1994; Vecchio-Sadus, 2007). The senior management within an organization must set the strategic vision for safety within the organization and formulate the strategy to achieve the safety objectives required to enable the strategic safety vision to be realized. (Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 2013; Killimett, 2006; Mitroussi, 2003). According to the research, for a strong organizational safety culture to be achieved and maintained, safety must be strongly and consistently supported by senior management and at all levels of management (HSE, 2013; Mitroussi, 2003; Shien, 1990). Research has shown this can be problematic, as often it is organizational founders and senior managers who have played a large part in the creation of the current organizational paradigm and safety culture (Johnson, 1992). The research has indicated senior management can effectively demonstrate their strong and essential support for the desired safety behaviors, values and beliefs through; setting the example with their actions being in line with the new desired safety behaviors and values (Bernard, 2010); effective time and resource allocation for safety concerns and incidents (Shien, 1990); holding themselves and subordinates accountable for safety initiatives; and being proactive with safety instead of just being reactive (Killimett, 2006). As well, by effectively and frequently communicating the desired safety behaviors and values through; staff meetings; email; reports; publications; telephone enquires; and workshops (HSE, 2013). If management decides that a poor safety record does not require change, and are perceived as doing nothing or very little, this may cause staff to believe that their safety or upholding high safety standards is not of utmost importance to senior management (Bernard, 2010). This will very likely lead to a further decline in safety management and any organizational safety culture change strategy will likely fail (Bernard, 2010; Vecchio-Sadus, 2007)
A vital part of what makes organizations successful is effective senior management communication. A review of organizational safety culture change communication resulted in the identification of various factors that contribute to a culture change strategy failing. Steffen (1999) argued one such factor is informal communication within an organization, such as; rumors; speculation; and informal networks who may be opposed to the changes, which can derail communication strategies initiated by senior management. Another factor was brought forth by Mullins and Christy (2013), who suggested that management or staff may utilize perceptual defense, which may cause the receiver of the message to only focus on information that supports their present cognitive paradigm and not consider the new ideas being communicated. As well, Alvesson (2002) argued that large scale and vague communications from senior management, which are not perceived as being coherent with the reality, and do not appeal to what people see as valuable, will be less effective than the careful consideration of local context.
Essential to organizational safety culture change is to ensure there was an ‘informed culture’ (Vecchio-Sadus, 2007). Vecchio-Sadus (2007) argued that informed culture is when; staff is presented with sufficient and clear information about the new expected safety behaviors and values; informed about potential risks they face in their duties; management effectively communicated underlined causes for incidents and near misses; staff is encouraged to report incidents and possible hazards in order to ensure improvement in overall safety management; and ensure there is effective communication both top down and bottom up for any safety matters.
Of the extensive research pertaining to organizational safety culture and safety performance, a major element that was identified as essential was effective safety induction and training and was noted as a vital part of demonstrating the required commitment. Bernard (2010) outlined the following essential training in order to promote organizational safety culture change, which were; training all staff and senior management on the new expected safety behaviors and values (HSE, 2013); training which utilizes a team work approach which will decrease staff anxiety about the proposed changes; providing training for managers on the required soft skills such as, mentoring, observational skills, listening and effective communication. Bernard (2010) argued that all such training must engage staff through non-adversarial and interactive safety training. Alvesson (2002) suggested that safety induction must be done for all new arrivals in order to promote the desired safety values and behaviors, and safety training must be ongoing in order to maintain a strong safety performance. A more proactive approach for organizational safety culture change, is the careful recruitment of new staff who exude the values and beliefs that are aligned with the desired safety culture (Alvesson, 2002)
In order for company senior management to achieve an organizational safety culture change they must be able to motivate their staff. Motivating staff to want to adhere to a safety culture change strategy can be achieved through obtaining recognition from senior management such as, promotions, organizational recognition and awards (Mullins & Christy, 2013). If an organization promotes individuals who display the new desired safety behaviors and values, and sanction those who do not, this will illustrate senior management’s commitment and will increase staff motivation to adhere to the changes (Bernard, 2010; Shien,1990; Alvesson, 2002).
- Senior management support through communications and leading by example
- Keeping employees informed of risks associated with their work
- Comprehensive safety and security training as a part of induction
- Ongoing safety and security training and communication
- Reward those who exude the desired elements of a strong safety culture
- Holding staff accountable who violate safety and security policies
If your organization truly wants to ensure they are prioritizing the well-being of their people and want to reduce expenditures associated with not conducting their due diligence in ensuring their duty of care, allow an NTI security and risk management professional to assist. Our experts can provide comprehensive risk, vulnerability and physical security assessments and assist any organization in mapping out an effective action plan to solve any identified issues. Contact: Info@nashtech.ca