STEP Safely with SSG Part 3: Zero Accidents – Reality, Myth or Culture

STEP Safely with SSG Part 3: Zero Accidents – Reality, Myth or Culture


  • Date: Tuesday 1st January 2008

It is now widely acknowledged that cultural and behavioural aspects of safety management have become increasingly important in accident prevention. Investigations into major disasters such as Chernobyl, Piper Alpha and the Herald of Free Enterprise revealed that despite established management systems, in the absence of an effective safety culture these systems broke down with catastrophic consequences.

In the case of the Herald of Free Enterprise, standards had slipped to such an extent that confirmation of closing the bow doors prior to embarkation was generally not sought. The consequences of this were devastating. Highly developed technical and engineering systems of control have been instrumental in driving down industry accident rates.

As a result, a plateau has now been reached where the role of ‘human factors’ in accidents is considered the controlling aspect; it is estimated that up to 80% of accidents are currently attributable to human error. In the wake of Chernobyl, the Committee for Safety in Nuclear Installations described a Safety Culture as; ‘The product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies and group behaviours that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organisations’ health and safety management.’ In other words, we must hold shared values and goals for the management of safety, and be working through a plan to realise these.

There are many ways to achieve a robust and positive safety culture, but the 5 steps below are essential elements:

Step 1: Competence People must be competent to do their jobs. Identification of competence requirements is a critical part of the risk assessment process. The skills to carry out tasks must be assessed and a system implemented that ensures that all employees are adequately trained and competent to work safely.

Step 2: Common Standards All work activities need to be streamlined and co-ordinated to ensure that safety is managed to a common standard. For this reason system standards such as HSG65 and OHSHAS 18001 have been established. The complexity of such systems should reflect both company size and business risks.

Step 3: Control – Allocating Responsibilities Employees must be aware of the elements of the management system for which they have responsibility. Roles and responsibilities for safety management must be defined and communicated throughout the company from directors through to part-time cleaners. A ‘blind eye’ cannot be turned to deviations from safe working practices; rules must be enforced or adapted so that they can be followed. Management commitment and visibility are essential.

Step 4: Co-operation Co-operation involves working together effectively as a united team with a common set of values and goals. Involvement of employees in devising systems, procedures and risk assessments can help in ensuring ownership and successful implementation. Establishment of a safety committee, comprising employees with a wide range of expertise, provides a useful forum for discussion of safety management issues.

Step 5: Communication Good communication is at the heart of effective safety management. Employees, and other persons affected by work activities, must be made sufficiently aware of the hazards, risks and control measures associated with those activities. Health and safety issues should be regularly discussed in meetings at all levels to ensure safety remains visible and on everyone’s agenda.

Conclusion Human error is a significant causative factor for workplace accidents. Fact. Creation of a robust, positive safety culture requires a considerable work effort but is attainable and will ultimately lead to a reduction in human error and hence fewer accidents.

This article was written by Dr. Michael Cash PhD (Cantab) CMIOSH AIEMA, Development Director with SSG Training and Consultancy.


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