Safety, health and environmental risk culture: a manufacturing case study
Naidoo, Chandaragasen Armugam
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Introduction: This study considered the role that safety, health and environmental (SHE) risk culture should play in the improvement of SHE risk management. The study focused on the perception of SHE risk culture at management and non-management levels in a manufacturing organisation in South Africa. SHE risk culture was viewed in terms of tone from the top and operational understanding of the risk management process. Method: A SHE risk culture questionnaire was created based on information available in the academic literature. The aim of this exploratory questionnaire was to assess the status of the SHE risk culture within the targeted organisation and to recommend improvements. The questionnaire included items designed to assess five aspects of SHE risk culture: understanding of the SHE risk approach; understanding of SHE risks and controls; SHE risk involvement and buy-in; communication; and governance, leadership and accountability. The target group for this study consisted of operations personnel and risk and SHE employees at different levels in the company. Survey data were obtained from 224 employees from a wide range of jobs in the company. Results: The data from the Likert-scale items in the questionnaire showed a number of significant differences between the perceptions of managers and non-managers with respect to the status of the SHE risk culture in the organisation. These differences indicated that management felt more comfortable with their understanding of the SHE risk approach, of the actual SHE risks, and of risk management controls than the non-management group. Also, management showed greater support for, and buy-in to, the SHE risk approach than the non-management group. In addition, participants shared their views of how the SHE risk culture in the organisation may be improved. The top five recommendations were: improve communication on SHE risk culture; standardise the SHE risk management approach; enhance SHE risk-related training to build capacity and understanding; emphasize the significance of leadership’s approach to embedding the SHE risk culture; and acknowledge the importance of involving employees in the development and implementation of the desired SHE risk culture. Conclusion: This study illustrated the importance of a number of factors required to improve the SHE risk culture in the organisation both in terms of tone from the top and operational understanding of SHE risks: they include well-structured communication; standardising and simplifying SHE risk management; SHE risk capacity building; and encouraging employee participation when developing and improving the desired SHE risk culture. The central role played by leadership to set the tone from the top and lead by example when implementing the desired organisational SHE risk culture was also highlighted by the participants. Practical application: This study provides evidence-based guidance for the manufacturing sector on how to evaluate and improve a desired SHE risk culture. The paper also shows how the concept of risk culture can be applied to SHE risk culture. The questionnaire used in this study can be used by management teams wishing to get an understanding of the prevailing SHE risk culture in their organisations. The results of the survey can be used to inform change interventions to improve the existing SHE risk culture in the organisation studied. The questionnaire should also be useful for further research on the concept of risk culture and in particular SHE risk culture.
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