Building a culture of safety and safety psychology within an organisation

Here Bharat N Londhe, Environment Health and Safety at Pirimal discusses the importance of safety culture

Most of you are probably aware of the well-documented case of The Piper Alpha oil platform disaster of 1988, where absence of adequate maintenance and risk assessment led to the loss of 167 lives. Another major industrial accident, the catastrophic explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, brought critical issues to light with respect to the Environment(al), Health & Safety (EHS). This led to the conclusion that ‘training of some new personnel on basic safety standards was ineffective’. Safety is perhaps uniquely critical for pharmaceutical organisations. Therefore, what can we derive from various industry incidents?

Safety as a mindset

A company’s culture is shaped by the mindset of its employees. Therefore, it goes without saying that businesses that wish to achieve a culture of safety should encourage its employees to cultivate a positive outlook towards safety. Adhering to this at all levels of the organisation, from the leaders to the frontline workers, is critical for its successful implementation. It is fundamental in preventing accidents at the workplace.

In my opinion, there is a direct correlation between a commitment to safety and the performance of EHS. Instances such as the explosion at Deepwater Horizon can be avoided if people and organisations keep a positive outlook towards safety. While addressing safety, it’s easy to focus on the tangible aspects, such as an agreement, a plan or an analysis. Yet these documents and procedures are not worth much if employees don’t cultivate a habit of thinking, seeing and behaving in a way that keeps safety at the forefront.

In my experiences at various manufacturing sites, I have observed that EHS procedures & requirements act as a conduit for positive results. A culture of workplace safety that is embraced by employees is the key to achieve a ‘zero accident’ mindset. This is applicable to our customers, onsite staff, and most importantly the frontline workers delivering the services.

These mindsets are particularly pervasive in organisations that struggle to improve their safety outcomes. By identifying these mindsets and harnessing approaches to overcome them, companies can achieve rapid, sustainable change.

General limitations in achieving this mindset are:

  • Fear of blame: “If I report an incident, I’ll be punished”
  • Trade-off: “Safe means less productive”
  • Disempowerment: “Safety is someone else’s job”
  • Complacency: “Cultural change takes time”
  • Injuries: “Injuries are part of the job”

Safety and business sustainability go hand-in-hand

Safety and sustainability are not separate entities in the pharmaceutical sector. It is important to link safety behaviours to business objectives and impacts. The key is to provide a rational motivation for employee actions (winning minds) combined with informal messages enabling their emotional commitment (winning hearts).

For CDMOs that function as outsourcing partners for their customers, it is important to clearly understand & align with the customer in order to gauge their overall site-specific safety vision and collective/communal approach towards onsite safety. Based on this, the team can then cascade the applicable safety behaviours and hazard focus points that are targeted by their customers and all company personnel.

Strategies to drive a safety mindset

Senior leaders have a plethora of strategies at their disposal when it comes to changing safety mindsets - the key is making sure they match your business goals.

Here are some concrete strategies to work effectively on cultivating safety mindset among the employees: Always encourage two-way communications, ask questions, and try to understand the view of the staff on site. All incidents are preventable and we should not consider them as a matter of fate. Always consider all risks involved before starting work.

Some crucial drivers for changing mindsets within the organisation are as follows:

  • Leadership team interacting with the shop floor people
  • Rewarding safe behaviours by providing positive reinforcement
  • Implementing the organisational changes required by involving management and leadership teams in EHS activities
  • EHS reviews by management
  • Leadership EHS walkthroughs on the shop floor
  • Involving managers in tool box talk meetings
  • Sharing learning incidents
  • Employee participation in incident investigation
  • Measuring EHS performance with leading and lagging indicators & safety meetings.

I strongly believe that a safe work environment can be nurtured by adopting an “EHS by Design” mindset and an “OWN IT” culture.

Featured Companies

Piramal Pharma Solutions (more information, website)