Many people perceive work on the safety culture to be a bit of a vague concept, but I believe that this is mostly about a lack of knowledge and inadequate tools. It’s about making it as tangible and practical as possible. There are currently many good, practical examples of work processes and methods to measure and develop the safety culture at our workplaces, says Solfrid Nilsen from the Swedish Work Environment Authority.

What is safety culture?

Safety culture is the shared attitudes, values and perceptions that managers and employees have in relation to safety and the work environment. The safety culture is thus of major importance for the way we work. What characterises a good safety culture at a workplace is that management prioritises and manages safety issues at all levels of the business and that they are part of the culture.

How does the Swedish Work Environment Authority work with safety culture?

When we’re out at inspections, we ask questions about safety and how they work with safety. What I’ve noticed in connection with this is that companies and agencies really have adopted the concept of safety culture. The talk is now instead more about organisational issues, organisational culture and how the organisation affects the work environment. There’s a desire to highlight the underlying causes of ill health and accidents in order to be able to work more systematically on these issues. The new regulation on the organisational and social work environment has of course also contributed to this.

“Being in breach of group norms costs more than being in breach of formal rules.”

How do you create a safe workplace?

To create a safe, healthy workplace, the technology and the physical work environment have to be designed and adapted for the users, and human behaviour must also be taken into account. The work environment is of course also affected by how you organise and lead the business. Supervisors therefore have a major, important role to play when it comes to conveying and gaining acceptance for safety awareness among their employees. Another bonus is the fact that a business that is safe and healthy is also an efficient business.

How should this happen, in practice?

It’s easy to focus on technical safety solutions, but when we start talking about the organisation and how it deals with safety and the work environment, many people find it vague, intangible and more difficult. I think it’s largely a matter of creating an understanding of the whole, people-technology-organisation, and how the elements interact. This is why we at the Swedish Work Environment Authority have developed several tools and aids. Industry organisations have also been good at developing support in this area.

It’s about making it as tangible as possible. There are many different practical examples of work processes and methods to measure and develop the safety culture in the form of independent evaluations, self-evaluations, questionnaires, interviews, follow-up on reported deviations, observations and company visits, examination and analysis of documentation, statistics and various kinds of data. I’m a big supporter of making issues tangible and discussing them in the business. All attempts are good attempts, as long as you show a desire and deal with the issues and do something about the problems.