Ingraining safety into your organisation's DNA

by 09 Oct 2013

Safety culture is something all employers and employees are interested in achieving. A recent survey from Norton Rose Fulbright demonstrated that while many Australian employees and employers felt confident about their organisation’s safety culture, the vast majority recognise there is more work to be done.

The survey, which encompassed 459 respondents, based its findings on the Safety Culture Framework, which breaks safety cultures down into five different areas.


Broken down, the five categories of safety culture are:

Pathological: No feedback on safety is provided, and there is a lack of belief and trust in the company on safety issues. Safety issues are ignored with no one knowing about or caring about safety. As a result, the workplace is dangerous and messy, with no legal requirements implemented.

Reactive: Safety systems meet legal requirements, with a top-down flow of information. Statistics are collected, but not followed up. Procedures are rewritten after accidents occur, and the workforce is held responsible for safety failures. Essentially, management is aware of safety, but does not always care about it.

Calculative: Safety is well accepted and positive safety performance is regarded. The workforce is more involved, although there is still a top-down flow of information. There are a large number of procedures in place, but few checks on their usage. Management cares about safety, but does not always know about it. Tooma feels most organisations fall in this category or under.

Proactive: Feedback loops are provided as management seeks out safety issues. Workforce involvement is promoted and management knows the risks with safety taking priority over production. Time and resources are available for safety. Essentially, management both cares and knows about safety.

Generative: All feedback loops are closed with safety integrated into other meetings. Management actively participates in safety and the workforce has freedom and trust in furnishing its own environment. Management not only knows and cares about safety, but it is seen as number one. This is the highest level that can be achieved.


Most commonly, respondents felt their organisation was proactive (35.5%), with 11.3% ranking their organisation as generative.

A generative safety culture is defined by Michael Tooma, head of occupational health, safety and security Asia Pacific at Norton Rose Fullbright as one in which safety is engrained into the organisation’s DNA.

“There is an acceptance that safety is not something separate, it is integrated in not only the management system but the conduct, behaviours, values and attitudes of the organisation itself,” he said, explaining an organisation with a generative culture will embrace safety as an overall performance improvement method.

As such, the response is in conflict with the vast majority (97.1%) of respondents stating their organisation has room to improve their safety culture.

Tooma explained this discrepancy comes from many respondents aiming higher than they are actually achieving, which he views as a positive.

“If one looks at the definition of what a generative organisation is, it’s a very high threshold to achieve and very few organisations achieve that,” he stated. “Having said that, it is positive that people aspire to be in that position where ‘safety is just how we do things around here’.”

In order to move beyond simply wanting to be generative and achieving it, Tooma stated that organisations should “fake it until you make it”.

“Sometimes you have to display the values in practice so they become so engendered in your organisation that they simply become the attitudes and beliefs and values of your organisation,” he said.

Tooma added organisations must not be afraid of bad news: they must seek out the vulnerabilities in their processes, learn from them and resolve them continuously. Trust should be engendered into the organisation, as this gives staff the resources necessary to help make sure safety is integrated. “It is about really partnering up with your workers and not simply imposing a set of rules and demanding compliance,” he explained.

“No one is pretending it is easy to be a generative organisation otherwise all of us would be generative organisations,” Tooma said. “It requires resources, it requires constant maintenance. What it requires is being on the safety journey and driving the organisation towards that goal.”


Where on this scale is your organisation? Are you aiming to improve the safety culture in your workplace?