The disaster at the Pike River coalmine has prompted members of the Safeguard discussion forum to consider more generally how New Zealanders view safety and what could be done to promote a higher level of safety culture.
One definition of organisational safety culture put forward is “what we do when no one is looking”. That is, after all the rules and systems are in place, and everyone is fully trained to do a job safely, what actually happens on the ground when the boss or safety manager isn’t around?
One suggestion is that our view of safety is shaped on the one hand by the “number eight wire” risk-taking spirit, and also – perhaps paradoxically – by the 24-hour, no-fault accident compensation scheme. The view is put forward that the focus on health and safety has gone off the boil in recent years, and that it is part of the duty of a health and safety practitioner to always be agitating for improvement.
Another view is that too much focus on safety systems risks overlooking the need for people at all levels to be engaged. “The people at risk must be part of the solution,” writes the forum member. “We should place more emphasis on leadership and enabling personal responsibility for individual behaviour.” The result being that people will have the ability to make safe decisions by themselves. “People don’t follow even the best systems unless they want to.”
Another post referred to Toyota’s move from having quality inspectors at the end of each production line, to having self-managing quality circles who would not let a defective item pass beyond their group, instead taking responsibility for getting things right every time. In a safety sense, this is an example of an organisation moving along the Bradley Curve of increasing safety maturity.
Another person advocated New Zealand developing a culture of “mateship” where people look after not only themselves but those all around them, “talking to their mates if they see them about to not follow accepted procedures.”
Click the link to follow the Safeguard forum ‘beyond Pike River’ discussion