When we discuss safety, we usually talk about whether an equipment is in working order, whether it's being maintained, and whether it's up to the latest standards or not. The objective of safety is to protect people, society, and the environment from any kind of danger.
Is it, however, possible to accomplish this level of protection solely through equipment? Say, you have purchased modern equipment. If you do not have experienced and qualified employees, do not have proper planning, and do not have education and training systems; will you be able to ensure your, your organisation's, or people's safety? No, you cannot! So, what do we need to do?
Every day, we witness countless deaths on the roads and waterways, and in buildings that collapse or catch fire. We also experience property damage worth thousands of crores of taka and environmental disasters. The number of accidents rises day by day.
We urge the formation of an inquiry committee as soon as an accident occurs and demand that they publish their report quickly. Whenever accidents occur, we start wrangling about what to do. Protests are held to demand punishment for the guilty. But very soon everything goes back to where it was before. The rules are concealed inside the book's cover, the inspector returns to the desk, and the manager becomes negligent. The cycle then repeats itself.
How far can this mismanagement go on? Is it not possible to get this mismanagement under control? Before our very eyes, every organisation is becoming a cornucopia of mismanagement.
It does not matter if it is a factory or a regulatory authority. Every company has its own distinct culture. The purpose of this culture is to achieve the organisation's basic goals with sincerity, dedication, and steadfastness to complete their obligations properly, from the highest authority, down to every management personnel and individual. The culture of the organisation determines the organisation's success, identity, and branding.
Safety culture is also vital and intimately linked to the organisation's culture. Safety culture is a set of values that everyone should strive to nurture. Each of the organisation's managers and leaders must sow the seeds of a safety culture.
In this case, the role of the management body and leader is the prime concern. Safety culture derives from organisational culture. Consequently, the only way to prevent all accidents is to foster a safety culture.
In 1980, Edgar Schein, an emeritus professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's School of Management, developed a model of organisational culture to improve the company's productivity, financial health, and branding.
There are three steps to the model. The first and second steps are to gain a deeper understanding of the hidden characteristics of human beings based on underlying assumptions, values, and beliefs; while the last step is to study the human being's visible characteristics such as behaviour, attitudes, and leadership.
This is known as the Iceberg Theory, which states that 80% of human traits are concealed inside and only 20% of the features we observe are visible. All management schools teach Edgar Schein's organisational culture model.
Safety culture also follows the same three steps. The significance of safety culture has grown since the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Now it has become obligatory to foster a safety culture in every organisation. This is a psychological issue of humans, not a technical one. It determines the organisation's safety and efficiency.
The following are some of the seven principles of safety culture: Every organisation will have a safety culture; Internal and external factors will have an impact on safety culture that influences all staff members; as safety culture is dynamic, it must be assessed and monitored regularly; obstacles and dangers in attaining the organisation's major goals and aspirations should be identified, and then appropriate actions need to be taken.
The manager must have a deep understanding of safety culture and ensure that all staff members are acquainted with it. The manager must demonstrate to his/her employees and motivate them. All organisational decisions must be made emphasising safety, and no decision can be made that jeopardises safety.
How can we understand if the organisation has a strong or weak safety culture? Whether or not safety issues are discussed in the organisation's regular meetings, having infrastructural facilities, proper equipment, and budget allocation for proper operation and maintenance of said equipment, the existence of a safety committee, regular supervision of staff's activities, record keeping, proper education and training, regular drills- all of these are symptoms that show a thriving safety culture. On the other hand, an absence of these shows a weak one at that.
Surveys, interviews, document reviews, and observation are four methods to assess safety culture. Each method is assessed independently, with the organisation's strengths and weaknesses noted and recommendations given to higher authorities.
If the authorities follow through on those recommendations, I'm sure, every organisation can be effectively protecting their most valuable assets and human life from any kind of accident.
Not only factory owners are responsible for maintaining a safety culture. Regulatory authorities also need to foster a safety culture on an equal basis. Both have a role that is critical and significant. However, it is the owner's obligatory responsibility to ensure safety.
Today we see that there is no commitment from the factory owner to follow the rules and regulations. Regulatory bodies lack the necessary infrastructure, skilled manpower, accountability, and the spirit of service to the people.
As a result, regulatory bodies are acting like toothless tigers. 80% of these accidents could be avoided if factory owners and regulatory bodies nourish a safety culture. The remaining 20% is dependent on the equipment. No matter how good the equipment is, if people are not sensitive to the equipment, it does not take long for good equipment to become inactive.
Developing perception, belief, trust, awareness, skill, and adherence to rules, regulations, procedures, standards, codes, and guides – all of these are essential components of a safety culture.
To foster a safety culture, there is no need to spend a lot of money. All that is required is a shift in mindset, as well as good planning and subsequent implementation. I believe that ensuring safety everywhere, including factories, highways, waterways, and buildings, with only the departments under concerned ministries is no longer possible. It is time demanding to establish a distinct and independent safety regulatory authority or commission.
Dr Md Shafiqul Islam is a Professor at the Department of Nuclear Engineering, University of Dhaka. Email: email@example.com
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.