International Safety: Summit Encourages Safety Culture

Aug. 19, 2008
More than 120 senior executives and health and safety managers convened in Wellington, New Zealand, to attend the Leaders in Health and Safety Summit, where they were urged to foster a safety culture within their workplaces.

The summit was held by New Zealand’s Department of Labour on Aug. 18.

“We want more workplaces to commit to building safer work cultures,” said David Tregoweth, the Department of Labour’s chief adviser on workplace health and safety. “Safety and productivity are the result of good management and good leadership. Safety is not a trade-off for productivity. The two go hand in hand.”

Speakers at the summit discussed instances where safety culture had been applied successfully, as well as catastrophic occasions when it hadn't.

“Safety culture is what everyone does, when no one is looking,” Tregoweth said. “It is the ‘unwritten’ rules about what is and is not okay in a workplace. It’s about the collective practices which are supported by both managers and workers which reflect people’s values and beliefs.”

A positive safety culture ultimately could help reduce workplace injuries and save lives, he said. International research showed it also helped productivity, job satisfaction and corporate reputation.

“For all that to happen, we need great leadership,” he pointed out. “Good practices come from the top down. This summit is about supporting businesses and encouraging that leadership to come from within industry. After all, good health and safety is simply good business.”

Keynote speaker professor Andrew Hopkins from the Australian National University, a world-renowned safety culture expert, said good safety culture placed an overriding priority on safety and ensured that safety issues received the attention they deserved.

Hopkins said that “cultures of denial” prevent organizations from picking up the warning signs that were always present before accidents. “Such cultures must be overcome if organizations were to become truly mindful,” he said.

Reporting systems are vital for picking up indicators of danger and management must carefully consider the sorts of things that should be reported and find ways to encourage such reports, he added. Management also should be made more effectively accountable for the way they responded.

“A cultural approach to safety is not saying ‘ignore the systems; all we need to do is get the culture right.’ On the contrary, the right culture is necessary to make safety systems work,” Hopkins said.

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