RFA Safety Culture (Blog)

When I was asked to write a ‘blog’ about safety a number of things went through my mind… “why me”, “how am I going to find the time” and “what’s a blog?”

Anyway, having been tasked to write a few hundred words related to Safety Culture I thought I’d better start with ‘What is a Safety Culture?’ Well, stealing from the internet provides:

A safety culture is a broad, organization-wide approach to safety management. A safety culture is the end result of combined individual and group efforts toward values, attitudes, goals and proficiency of an organization's health and safety program.” (Industrial Safety and Hygiene News).

To provide a standardised understanding across the maritime industry the UK Chamber of Shipping Safety Culture Charter declares that Safety Culture will be defined as:

The product of individual and group values, attitudes and beliefs, competencies and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organization’s safety management.” (Advisory Committee on Safety in Nuclear Installations (ACSNI))

In other words, there is no standard definition of a safety culture. So how about “The attitude and practical implementation of the safe systems of work, derived from the Safety Management System, that provides a working environment where by risks that both workers and the environment are exposed to are reduced to be as low as reasonably practical” (Me – just now)

I was going to talk about how a safety culture doesn’t exist within a company until both management and employees are engaged in working towards a common shared goal but that is wrong, because I missed out the word ‘good’. A good safety culture is about peoples’ values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours being geared towards the achievement of a common goal in which safety is considered a priority.

So in practical terms how do you develop a good safety culture where one doesn’t exist? Well, you have to move people from the place of ‘not doing’ something, through ‘having to do it’, on to ‘wanting to do it’, to ‘doing it instinctively’. When I started driving you didn’t have to wear a seat belt, the law changed, and I wore one because I had to. Now if I don’t wear one I feel quite uncomfortable. Didn’t, had to, want to, just do it. The read across to our working practices might be working aloft. We used to work aloft without a safety harness. Sure, we had them but why wear one, after all I’m not planning on falling off. Then the company imposed the requirement and after many years I would venture that pretty much everyone working aloft is more comfortable wearing a harness than not. ‘Safety’ is a habit we are made to adopt until it became ingrained. This is why a safety culture takes time to develop. Good habits take effort and we need to keep reinforcing those habits.

We also need to be mindful that even the most robust safety cultures are still pretty fragile; they are, at heart, based on people. Keeping a solid core of people who are invested in your safety culture and can pass that investment on to others, is key to retaining the thing that will have taken not inconsiderable effort to grow.

And now I will leave you with this last thought, “Why do we call orange jam marmalade?”

 Peter Lewington

RFA Quality System Manger and Designated Person Ashore


Royal Fleet Auxiliary

Single line quote “Safety Culture….It actually is all about you”