Risk prevention specialists on the safety culture

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During the press reading I do almost every morning, I sow a new regarding Fukushima nuclear disaster linked to this video. “There’s so much description of the lack of safety culture and our bad habit in our organisation. We admit, we completely admit that part of the parliamentary report”, says a TEPCO responsible:

Later the morning, I read this new spreading the interest from international organisations for watching labor conditions at Bangladesh textile factories. Apart from the content itself, I thought it was good that corporate social responsibility was a worldwide new, as already happened in other cases.

When I finished reading press, I felt a disturbing link between the news on Fukushima and Bangladesh. “Safety culture” and “social responsibility” have something in common, but what? and how?. So, I started to search a solvent answer to this intuitive link.

Safety culture is an expanding concept.

Surfing the Internet I reached this 2011 EU-OSHA report “Occupational Safety and Health culture assessment“.

As I was reading it, I started to feel better. Not for finding a good answer to my doubt, but for realising that there is no an universally accepted definition for “safety culture“. The report refers to it as “a concept for exploring how informal organisational aspects influence OSH in a positive or negative way. It can have an impact on how OSH is perceived and dealt with among workers in an organisation, and on whether workers are aware of OSH-related issues and act in a safe and healthy way”. Along the report, safety culture is referred as an “abstract concept”, “giving a large degree of freedom on how is understood and put them into practice” and with a “lack of consensus”.

That is, there is no definition, but my conscience got clear for realising that my doubts were reasonable and that it is normal not to know how to define safety culture, despite that all we know what we are talking about when explaining it 😉

At the same time, that ambiguity in the concept allows to connect safety culture, more intuitively that reasonably, to the world-wide social responsibility with which deals the new from Bangladesh: as safety culture affects on workers awareness on OSH-related issues, social responsibility affects all those aspects from which citizens become aware of all the issues regarding society, whatever they are: safety and labor conditions, environmental aspects or public health in general.

There is a place where corporate safety culture and social responsibility have a meeting point. Don´t look for it in regulations or laws: It will start when a company encourages workers participation and an effective leadership from the steering board; it will continue with an increasing confidence and wellbeing at work; it will overshoot the company doors with work-life balance policies; and will reach society by mean of actions like, for example, carbon dioxide compensation and free training to workers´relatives or any other people.

I don´t really know where safety culture starts and ends. And, since there is no regulations restricting it, as an EHS professional I won´t be the one limiting my professional aims regarding safety culture.

When I explain my job, I use to say “I work in risk prevention” (or “safety and health”), with no more suffixes like “labour” or “at work” because “risk prevention” raises intentionally my professional scope beyond the corporate level to reach even the safety culture that society needs, what is indeed a professional profile requested more and more by companies.

In this context, function and responsibilities of a “risk prevention” or “safety and health” specialist is no set in any royal decree, an act or any directive. In this issue, you set your own limits.


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