Published:  03:36 AM, 11 August 2017

Towards a sustainable safety culture

Towards a sustainable safety culture

Safe working environment is the keystone of a successful business. But, frequent fire tragedies in the readymade garments industry in Bangladesh have drawn our attention to stimulate our sleeping eyes and to think something special and effective one to mitigate.

Therefore, it is greatly urged to have a sustainable safety culture as it is a systematic approach to manage an organization's safety, accountabilities, policies and procedures in an effective way.

Recently, Bangladesh government, BKMEA, BGMEA and other international organizations are trying desperately to ensure eye-catching development of the RMG sector. But, the question is, do RMG manufacturers really think about the safety culture? Due to a lack of general understanding and violation of compliance issues, safety management sometime goes to the dogs and so, nurturing of a safety culture is the prolific approach of the day to materialize. 
According to OSHA, "Safety culture consists of shared beliefs, practices, and attitudes that exist at an establishment. Culture is the atmosphere created by those beliefs, attitudes, etc. which shape our behavior." Therefore, it is the combination of a high level of safety beliefs, values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of people within the company or workplace. Strong leadership and management's commitment are directly related to safety performance.

Here, a safety culture is not merely a collection of policies and programs such an Accident Prevention Program (APP), Injury and Illness Prevention programs, Personal Protective Equipment programs (PPE) and ergonomic programs. These tools can be significant components of a safety culture; these can help to reduce workplace risk and also to ensure regulatory compliance. But, these tools alone do not make a safety culture.

According to the recent studies, workplace related disasters are commonly occurred due to the frequent collapse of an organization's policies and procedures and so, the breakdown flows from inadequate attention being paid to safety issues. A good safety culture can be promoted by senior management commitment to safety by the demonstration of realistic practices for handling hazards and applying organizational learning for ensuring hazards free working environment.

Though behavior is the root of a safety culture, it does not materialize overnight in Bangladesh. Education is the precondition of changing human behavior and this change can be: getting the individual to stop doing some things and getting the individual to start doing other things. But, some people are resistant to change as they like to prefer doing their jobs in a traditional way either it works or not.

The behavior-based safety concept was developed by H.W. Heinrich in the 1930s and 1940s. Heinrich researched hundreds of insurance reports. According to the research almost 90 percent of industrial accidents could be blamed on employees, or "man failure". 

The workers who were causing accidents could have inherited certain traits causing them to be more accident prone. So, it is mandatory to observe and change worker's behavior to rectify this problem.

An effective safety culture consists of commonly recognized core elements such as: Management commitment to safety, Treatment as an investment  not a cost, Blame-free working environment, Job satisfaction, Training, equipment & information for all, Organizational commitment, Worker involvement, Co-worker support, System for hazard prevention and control, Personal accountability and Celebrating successes. 

But, safety and health do not exist in a vacuum and so, it needs a unique safety culture that has a philosophy to permeate the daily activities of an organization and also to have a significant contribution for changing employee attitudes and behaviors in relation to workplace health and safety. Therefore, the concept of a safety culture is an innovative thinking to ensuring hundred percent compliant RMG sector in Bangladesh.

Sometimes, strict laws and regulations discourage practices that values production over safety. Here, we need to represent the shared beliefs, attitudes, norms and work practices of employees and management as every employee plays a critical role in ensuring the safety of other employees. Safety is more than a set of activities focused on accident prevention and it is the way of thinking about how we work with a deft hand.

To create a safety culture, it requires a team approach and a proactive attitude to learn from indicators of unsafe conditions. If we can weave safety concept into our company's mission, policies and procedures, it will be a great way to demonstrate its importance towards a sustainable safety culture. The organizations which have a better safety culture can definitely be a successful one in preventing workplace accidents and injuries.

Safety culture is based on the safety performance of an organization. As employees are accustomed with a particular set of workplace practices, it is typically challenging to promote a change. Safety culture is often described as the 'personality' of an organization; it includes the ways in which safety issues are addressed in the workplace and a business does things to ensure the safety of its employees and the workplace structure.

But, accidents, incidents and near misses are occurring every now and then in our working place due to the unsafe acts by people such as: improper equipment use, lack of good housekeeping and supervision, inadequate training, poor leadership, ineffective planning and safety communications. Therefore, sustainable safety culture is a time demanding fact to be materialized for ensuring hazards free working environment.

In the concluding remarks, we should bear in mind that if we alert today, we will be safe for tomorrow and this philosophy needs to be nurtured. Therefore, it time to demonstrate and prove ourselves as an unmatched competitor in the arena of the global RMG by ensuring zero tolerance in respect of safety issues and here, establishment of a safety culture is a praiseworthy initiative to be acknowledged.     

The writer is Assistant Deputy Secretary, BKMEA

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