Reflections on creating a safety culture

Safety is a top priority for manufacturing companies. Here three experts share insights on how to ensure a safe operation and avoid high-consequence accidents.

Blenda Weibull

Owner and senior consultant, Blenda Weibull Konsult AB

A safety expert with an M.Sc. in Chemical Engineering and an M.Sc. in Process Safety & Loss Prevention, Blenda is a former Vice President HSEQ at Borealis.

“A genuine, human-centred safety culture forms the basis of safe work”

"We all know that safety is paramount for companies in high-risk industries such as refining. Major accidents are very rare, but when they do occur, they may cause destruction or even wipe out a company.

Preventing low-likelihood/high-consequence events poses specific challenges for several reasons. One reason is that actual safety performance is difficult to measure accurately. Another reason is that most people base their risk perception on their personal experience, which in this case does not help at all. A third reason is the human desire to improve and simplify work. If everything seems to be going well, it is human to believe that precautions can be overlooked.

That is why such an organisation must have the desire to carry out activities and controls every day to prevent events that are unlikely to ever happen, and to act on all deviations that might affect safety, without diminishing it to compliance only. A genuine, human-centred safety culture forms the basis of safe work at all levels of the company.

Such value-based leadership has proved to be effective, not only in terms of safety. The same components that are required to reach high safety performance will also boost quality, business volume and workforce satisfaction.”

Rolf Allgulander

Vice President Manufacturing, Nynas 

An engineer from Chalmers School of Technology with an MBA from Gothenburg University, Rolf has long experience of leading strategic change and restructuring programmes in the chemical industry.

“Safety is the foundation for a successful operation”

"The basis for Nynas' safety work is the goal that everyone should return from work as safe and sound as when they went there, and that the integrity and quality of our operation is maintained. We aim to be better than the industry average regarding Total Recordable Injuries (TRIs), Process Safety Accident Frequency and Transport Accident Frequency.

Looking back some ten years, we have achieved a tremendous development in our safety track record, improving our TRI from around 10-12 per year to a top performance of 2.4 in 2017. Furthermore, it is many years since we had a serious process accident. The key to this positive development is that everyone takes safety seriously and understands its importance for the business as a whole.

A successful safety culture does not happen overnight. It is not something that you can simply order and it requires consistency, clarity and a genuine commitment from everyone, not least management. Continuous communication, training, audits and monitoring through KPIs are all cornerstones of our safety work. Transparency is also key – we don’t sweep even the smallest incidents under the rug. Everything must be reported and followed up.

Taking safety seriously also means investigating every incident thoroughly, looking at all direct and indirect factors. This is why some 10-15 % of our staff have undergone a training programme called Lead Investigations.

If you believe that you can run a well-functioning industrial business while having a poor safety record, in the long run you are fooling yourself. It is the foundation for a successful operation.”

Jennifer Webster

Registered Occupational Psychologist, The Health & Safety Laboratory (a UK government agency)

An M.Sc. in Occupational Psychology, Birkbeck, University of London. Safety Climate & Behavioural Change Consultant.

“Communications need to be constantly refreshed”

"In engineering before you start tinkering with the machinery you carry out diagnostics tests. Similarly, you need to start with a safety climate survey.

This looks at whether the organisation really is committed to good health and safety, whether there’s an appropriate level of trust between leaders, managers and the workforce, as well as between peers.

You can then identify where, for instance, people aren’t adhering to maintenance schedules or are watching their colleagues do something unsafe without challenging it.

Communication is essential. Create a steering group and find advocates for safe working from all levels within the organisation. Communications need to be constantly refreshed. I worked with one company who decided to display their safety posters in different locations. Suddenly people started noticing them even though they’ve been up for years.

In the engineering sector where there might be noisy workshops and a macho culture companies can have meetings before shifts start. Younger generations respond to graphic, evocative imagery, according to our research. Painting a vivid picture of what might happen if something were to go wrong for them and their organisation is massively powerful.”

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