I was invited to share some thoughts in this column around what making health and safety a priority really means for businesses. It’s a particularly revealing question
that opens up a lot about how we think about safety at Z. But I reckon it’s also a question which points to why New Zealand workplaces have such an appalling safety record, in both absolute terms and relative to other places like Australia and the UK.
So what do I mean by that? I often hear businesses – good businesses with genuine commitments to safety – say things like “safety is our number one priority”. Not too many people would argue with that. Except that by their very nature priorities can and often do change.
You might argue that it’s a minor nuance of language, but the whole point of prioritisation is shifting the list of things that matter according to circumstance. As a country and as a company we’re not going to make the breakthrough on safety that we need until safety is a value, not a priority.
Just think about how priorities change where you work. Stuff happens so priorities change as and when required, they may even be different across teams in the same organisation. For example the manufacturing team might have safety as their number one priority given the risks to personal or process safety they face each day. Meanwhile the sales team may have customer satisfaction as their number one priority because their risks around safety don’t have the same consequence. We have all experienced bosses saying something is a priority and then their actions a week or two later leave you thinking something else.
We all know one thing that doesn’t change is your personal values when doing your work. These are something you never compromise; you’ll leave the organisation before that happens.
So when we deliberately and actively embed safety into an organisation as a value, it becomes non-negotiable. All reference to choice is removed and safety simply becomes the way things are done—part of the culture. This shows up consistently in the way decisions are made and capital is allocated. A good example is Z’s $10 million investment in keeping our customers and site staff safe with digital CCTV, licence plate recognition, DNA identification mist and smoke cannons–the full array of site safety technology.
It could be easy for this kind of spending to be deprioritised and deferred. But if safety is indeed a value, these decisions and investments are made. For Z, this has helped slash robbery rates at our sites from approximately 30 a year to six this financial year, with the target eventually being zero.
If, like ours, your organisation is on a journey towards a culture in which safety is embedded as an organisational value, leaders must talk about safety in such a way
that people connect to why it really matters to them personally. Then those leaders must walk that talk, all the time, also keeping it as a personal value.
One last point that’s top of mind for me at the moment is creating an environment in which a safety culture can thrive. To encourage incident reporting, intervention in unsafe acts and sharing and learning from our inevitable mistakes, an organisation must work to generate what we at Z call a ‘Just Culture’.
A Just Culture is simply one in which people know they will be given a fair go when things don’t go to plan. Where mistakes, accidents, or inadvertent breaches of safety rules or procedures are thoroughly investigated, but, in the case of an honest mistake, are not punished. I reckon a Just Culture is the foundation of an organisation which has embedded safety as a value. If you’re interested in more on how a Just Culture can work in your own organisation have a look at Z’s recently published Fair Go Guide’ here: http://www.z.co.nz/fairgo.
I’m not here to tell others how to approach safety in their organisations, rather just to share some perspectives. I’d appreciate any feedback or questions that this column might have raised for people as the safety journey is never over. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Meanwhile, keep safe and healthy!