Great Teams

Building A Robust Safety Culture

08.12.20 11:18 AM By Mark Pym

At the heart of any great team, you need a strong and effective safety management system

A strong safety culture is the essential first ingredient in any safety management system.  It is usually a great sign of one of the 32 building blocks (what we call pathways) of a great team which we cover in our model called Teamshift

Those organisations that had robust safety management systems (SMS) in place and hence an embedded safety culture, were better able to respond fast to the Corona virus as it swept across the globe.

A great safety management system starts with first properly assessing the organisation’s safety culture for risk.  However, as we are learning, the results are not always the same. The approach can make a huge difference. 

Poorly done, the safety management system, will at best marginalize and at worst, be completely ineffective – more of a “check in the box,” just to gain an approval or keep a supplier happy.

Once we are through the corona virus pandemic, safety management will become an even more important aspect of engaging employees and creating connections that strengthen the team and the organisational culture.

Employees, staff, unions and representative bodies will want to know that the business has a robust, well thought through safety management system in place, that scenario plans various potential crisis and builds effective and rapid responses, to any such scenarios. 

At the heart of this, will be the need for a strong and effective safety management system. 

Much can be learnt from industries that have had robust safety management in place for decades such as the aviation industry, which also has a very strong focus on the human behavioural aspects of safety, referred to as Human Factors. But at the and of the day it is about what you do. 

As Deborah Hersman, chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, said in an April 2009 speech to the International Society of Air Safety Investigators, SMS “functions well for companies that already are getting it right, but it may do little for companies without strong safety cultures.”

Safety Management Is About Mind Set

In and post 2020 it may require a post corona virus re-think of the organisation’s safety management systems, including a re-think on socialisation, home working, group meetings, cleaning (including deep cleaning), potentially testing and company sick pay.

What is very evident is that corona virus (indeed any potential virus) will in the future be embraced within the SMS as a hazard, with incident report systems being extended to cover near misses and exposures. This will all help with the ownership of safety and risk reduction in the operation. 

There are huge issues with this in terms of privacy, as is already being experienced in China.  The Chinese, at a governmental level, have introduced very stringent controls to ensure staff and the public are tested and assessed at the very earliest point possible.

However, if this virus pandemic continues unabated in Europe, we are likely to see a growing demand for similar systems that help promote health and well-being in the workplace. 

In China, this has also included embracing social media to help track and notify, both the authorities and the individual, of their health status. 

It all starts with a passport type system. 

In China they are using big data via their mobile payment ecosystem (the largest in the world) to oversee this. This is built upon QR codes. You can find yourself interacting with these QR codes dozens of times a day as you enter buildings, use the train or buy a drink. This has been rapidly extended to promote health monitoring, again using the QR codes system.

You are effectively assigned a green, yellow or red code depending on your health status. As the mobile system is able to track people around you, if you are self-isolating and leave your home, say to visit the shops, or go to work, the system is able to notify those around you (via their mobile phones) that they may have come into contact with someone who has the virus, allowing them to take the necessary precautions.

On entering a building, your phone is scanned by Security, requiring a green QR code to gain access.

At various places (airports/train terminals/road tolls/etc) regular checks are also taking of your QR code to assess your status


All this smack of big brother and the potential misuse of big data however organisation’s will need to review their own safety management systems and determine what they may need to do, to create as safe as possible an environment, in the workplace.

Already, at the time of writing this original blog (April 2020), we are seeing organisations with robust safety management systems, introducing their own measures and risk mitigation to help keep their staff as safe as possible.

 The Swiss engineering company ABB, confirmed recently that it is testing some of its staff in Switzerland for the coronavirus infections breaking with government guidance and a global shortage of testing kits. 

Walmart, has said it will start taking the temperature of its US employees before they start their shifts, as well as asking them to take basic health screening questions, all designed to reduce the rapid spread of coronavirus amongst their staff, customers and suppliers.

 These practices may also become a requirement to ensure they are protecting their own businesses and ensuring the leadership team has introduced reasonable mitigations under their safety management system.

Quite how you then ensure staff comply with any such measures and mitigations is a debate for another blog, however what we can say for sure is that there will be major changes to many businesses safety management systems, particularly if controls are not introduced at a UK or international level, which is a huge debate, in terms of privacy and the human rights of national citizens.