The impact of a negative safety culture can have fatal consequences

Health and safety should be top of the agenda for organisations considering that the wellbeing of staff and the reputation of the company are at stake.  However, research findings from a YouGov survey1 conducted on behalf of Seton show that health and safety is not always prioritised, and that a high proportion of accidents at work could have been avoided if recommended health and safety assessments and procedures had been implemented.

The Health and Safety Executive report2 that in 2013 / 2014, 133 workers were fatally injured and the construction industry accounted for 42% of these fatalities.   Close to 30 million days were lost due to work-related ill health or injury; fines totalled £18 million; and there was an estimated cost of £14.2 billion to Britain overall.  I strongly believe that the cost of prevention is significantly less than the cost of dealing with the consequences of inadequate health and safety measures at an individual, organisational and societal level.

The YouGov survey revealed that 59% of construction workers believe that their health and safety needs are not fully met by their current employer.  Stephen Thomas, Health and Safety Technical Consultant at Croner Solutions (a leading business consultancy in the health and safety industry), reminds employees that health and safety is their responsibility too: “They have legal duties themselves to report health and safety issues.  The employer should be consulting with the employee on safety issues with both parties arriving at a mutual solution.”

It really concerns me that 31% of employers in the construction industry said that an accident at work could have been avoided with improved health and safety practices.  Considering this industry is so high risk, it is vital that senior managers start to move health and safety to the top of the agenda.  So why are some organisations still not up to scratch?

62% of senior decision makers admitted that there are a number of barriers preventing them from investing more in health and safety, and the lack of a healthy safety culture seems to be a key obstacle.  20% of employers surveyed believed that there is too much bureaucracy involved, an attitude particularly prevalent in construction, and 13% of employers stated that employees are often resistant to following health and safety procedures.

However, arguably the most shocking finding is that 21% of senior decision makers said health and safety is not that important in their industry! 10% of construction employers held this belief despite that fact that the construction industry accounted for nearly half of all workplace fatalities last year.

A Seton customer survey conducted in 20133 uncovered that in some organisations there is a culture of non-compliance amongst operators – a problem raised by 36% of customers. Respondents said that some operators can be very complacent and believe that an accident is unlikely to happen to them, or even that wearing the correct personal protective equipment damages their image at work. These research findings provide support for the theory that attitudes towards safety may be a key issue preventing best practice.

Stephen is not overly surprised by these findings: “It’s the perception that health and safety is a burden rather than a benefit to the business.” In order to improve health and safety it seems that a fundamental shift in attitude is necessary.  Stephen believes that health and safety “should really be a core business issue so if you build it in right from the ground floor then the business will reap the rewards”.  Improving practice can not only increase safety but may also improve processes making the business more efficient.

The benefits of a more positive safety culture are clear, and the consequences of a negative safety culture can be fatal. Paul Bizzell from SHP recognises the impact of safety culture at work4 and recommends that organisations evaluate their own culture in order to understand whether it is having a positive impact on the business and how it can be improved. In line with this, Seton urges health and safety decision makers to keep a couple of questions top of mind when planning for the year ahead:  How can I ensure our safety culture is a positive one that benefits the business? And, ultimately, what is more important than the lives of people in the workplace?


1YouGov Survey 2014. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. For the Consumer study the total sample size was 2413 adults of which 1376 were workers. Fieldwork was undertaken between 4th – 7th April 2014. For the Business study the total sample was 525 small and medium senior decision makers excluding sole traders. The surveys were carried out online. The Consumer figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+) and the Business figures have been weighted and are representative of company size (aged 18+).

2Health and Safety Statistics 2013 / 2014, Health and Safety Executive

3Hearing Protection Survey (2013) conducted by Seton UK with 106 respondents were from Construction, Education, Manufacturing and Facilities Management sectors.


Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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