Fostering a positive safety culture in the transport industry
In the transport industry, the wellbeing of colleagues and employees is at the forefront of organisational priorities. From road accidents to hazardous materials handling, the risks faced by workers in this sector are significant.
Ensuring the safety of colleagues and employees is not just a legal obligation and a moral imperative; by fostering a positive safety culture, organisations can also enhance employee engagement, retain talent, and demonstrate their commitment to the wellbeing of their workforce.
When employees feel safe and supported in their work environment, they are more likely to engage actively in safety practices. This engagement not only reduces the risk of accidents but also encourages a culture of accountability and continuous improvement.
Achieving a positive safety culture is perhaps easier said than done. We understand that employees don’t always work in their own best interests, and influencing employee behaviour towards safety is a complex task.
That’s where behavioural science comes into play. It provides valuable insights into the psychological factors that shape human behaviour. By studying attitudes, beliefs, motivations, and social influences, organisations can gain a deeper understanding of why employees act the way they do in regards to safety. This knowledge allows organisations to develop targeted interventions and strategies to work with the quirks of decision-making, and ultimately promote safe behaviours.
The role of behavioural science
Cognitive biases can contribute to unsafe behaviours. For example, the availability bias may cause employees to underestimate the likelihood of accidents if they have not personally experienced one. And the optimism bias may cause employees to underestimate their personal risk of accidents and incidents, and overestimate their chances of positive outcomes.
For instance, a truck driver who has been driving for years without any major accidents may develop an optimism bias. They may start to believe that they are immune to accidents and become less vigilant in following safety protocols. This bias can lead to complacency and a disregard for safety measures, such as not wearing seatbelts or exceeding speed limits. Social norms also play a significant role in shaping individual behaviour. People are influenced by what they perceive as the accepted standards of behaviour within their social groups. In the workplace, social norms can either support or hinder safety practices. If employees observe their colleagues consistently prioritising safety, they are more likely to follow suit. Conversely, if unsafe behaviours are normalised, it can create a culture of risk-taking.
By conducting assessments and analysing data, organisations can identify specific behavioural patterns and cognitive biases that contribute to unsafe behaviours. With this insight, interventions can be tailored to address these barriers effectively. For example, if overconfidence is identified as a barrier, interventions can focus on providing feedback and creating opportunities for self-reflection to help employees recognise and correct the bias.
Building a positive safety culture through leadership
A positive safety culture encompasses various components that create an environment where safety is prioritised and ingrained in everyday practices. These components include:
- clear safety policies and procedures,
- effective communication channels,
- ongoing training and education,
- a reporting and learning system for incidents and near-misses, and
- a supportive and non-punitive approach to addressing safety concerns.
When these components are present, employees feel empowered to speak up, report hazards, and actively engage in safety practices, leading to a safer work environment.
Leadership also plays a critical role in fostering a positive safety culture. Leaders must set the tone from the top by demonstrating their commitment to safety through their actions and decisions. They should actively participate in safety programmes, visibly follow safety protocols, and engage in open and transparent communication about safety. By holding themselves accountable, leaders inspire employees to do the same. Effective leadership also involves providing resources, support, and training to employees, driving a culture of continuous improvement and learning.
But it’s not all on the shoulders of leaders. Promoting safety as a shared responsibility is also essential. Creating a sense of shared ownership helps employees become personally invested in safety outcomes, making them more likely to actively engage in safe behaviours. This can be supported through safety committees, safety recognition programmes, and regular communication channels that encourage employees to share their ideas, concerns, and suggestions related to safety.
Strategies to improve safety practices and employee motivation
Training and education aside, there are four strategies and principles that can be adopted:
- Clear communication: Establish clear and open lines of communication to ensure that employees feel comfortable reporting safety concerns or near-miss incidents. Encourage a culture of transparency where employees are empowered to speak up about potential hazards or unsafe practices without fear of retribution. Regularly communicate safety updates, reminders, and success stories to reinforce the importance of safety within the organisation.
- Incentives and recognition: Implement a system of incentives and recognition to motivate employees to prioritise safety. Recognise and reward employees who consistently adhere to safety protocols and contribute to a safe working environment. This can include monetary rewards, public recognition, or additional perks. Consider involving employees in the design of the recognition programme to ensure it aligns with their preferences and motivators.
- Empowerment and autonomy: Give employees a sense of ownership and autonomy over their safety practices. Encourage them to take personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of others. Provide opportunities for employees to be involved in safety committees or task forces, where they can contribute their ideas and insights to improve safety practices within the organisation.
- Continuous improvement: Regularly evaluate and update safety practices and procedures. Encourage employees to provide feedback and suggestions for improvement. Conduct regular safety audits and inspections to identify potential risks and hazards and take proactive measures to mitigate them. Engage employees in the process of identifying and implementing safety improvements, which can enhance their motivation and buy-in.
Remember, it’s important to customise and tailor these approaches to fit your organisational culture, and the unique needs and challenges of your people.
Get in touch
By leveraging behavioural science concepts, engaging in effective leadership, and promoting safety as a shared responsibility, organisations in the transport industry can create a culture where safety is ingrained in every aspect of their operations.
Give us a call to talk about how we can help you foster a positive safety culture that works for you, or email Andrew.Drummond@CorporateCulture.co.uk