Accidents at work are mainly the result of inappropriate behaviour by employees. In view of this, it is the task of employers and managers as well as employees to prevent them from occurring and to reduce any damage by taking appropriate measures focused not only on a safe working environment, but also on creating an appropriate safety culture.


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UDT conference. Photo: Rafał Knotek-Trościanko, Training Manager ODK Ergon
Photo: Ergon

According to data from the Central Statistical Office, the main cause of accidents at work in Poland is improper behaviour of employees. This is the reason for as many as 60% accidents ('Wypadki przy pracy 2016 r.', Central Statistical Office, Warsaw 2017). Only in further positions were such causes as inadequate organisation of work or workstation or improper condition of machinery. On the other hand, according to analyses conducted by the UDT in 2016, operating errors of sub-surveillance equipment (improper operation) account for as much as 94.5%.

In view of these statistics, standard preventive measures, e.g. procedures and new technologies to improve working conditions and prevent accidents, do not constitute fully effective prevention.

As can be concluded from the results of research? (P. Hudson, 'Implementing a safety culture in a major multinational', Safety Science 2007), modern technology and management systems do not completely eliminate employee misconduct and do not significantly affect the number of accidents.

It is important to note that in the 21st century, with rapid economic development, safety culture is often becoming an uncomfortable topic and even deliberately overlooked.

An additional problem in prevention is the lack of understanding of the term safety culture, which is wrongly associated only with an end in itself, mandatory implementation of procedures or even additional formalities.

Safety culture can also be confused with technical culture, which is also an extremely important issue, but not a key one, affecting accident rates. It is characterised by the availability of documentation, good procedures and their proper implementation or ensuring that equipment is properly operated.

With this in mind, it is crucial, in our opinion, to point out on the pages of 'Construction Forum' the importance of an appropriate safety culture, which can be applied regardless of working conditions, company size or modern technology.

A culture of safety can be created 'underground' through, among other things, proper education, which can effectively shape the correct attitudes of employees, thereby raising awareness of risks and, above all, of fundamental and supreme values, including respect for human life.

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What is safety culture?
The term was first applied by a group of advisers to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident. At the time, the commission investigating the accident concluded that secondary to the primary cause - construction errors - were procedural errors resulting from negligence, in the area of safety culture, in both the construction and operation phases of the plant. Safety culture encompasses the factors that trigger or sustain actions focused on the protection of workers' lives and health, and is the totality of actions involving the implementation of organisational and inter-organisational practices whose primary intent is to protect the individual worker and the working environment. Safety culture is also a set of values and beliefs within an organisation, creating specific patterns of behaviour. It is the result of individual and collective values, characteristics, perceptions, competences and behavioural patterns that determine commitment to occupational safety.

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The key to understanding the importance of a high safety culture is to know the relationship between accident rates and safety culture. This is best illustrated by the Bradley curve developed by DuPont, which distinguishes between the factors that influence the level of safety culture: reactive, dependent, independent and most significantly related (interdependent).

At the reactive stage, workers are aware of health and safety rules, but they rely on natural instincts at work, so they do not always perform their duties safely, which translates into a high frequency of accidents. Employees are expected to follow the rules for safe and hygienic work because they are told to, but they do not feel the need to do so themselves. This is then referred to as extrinsic motivation.

The dependent stage is distinguished by greater management involvement, training, control and worker discipline. Constant supervision reduces the number of accidents, nevertheless it is still a question of extrinsic motivation in relation to workers.

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At the independent stage, the employee's intrinsic motivation emerges - instead of subordination, there is commitment to one's own actions. Appropriate employee habits are formed, self-care and personal attentiveness emerge, resulting in a significant reduction in accidents.

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In the case of the linked (interdependence) stage, the work culture is evident not only in individual workers, but in whole teams. Employees are committed to health and safety, helping each other, looking out for others, interacting, recognising and negatively assessing unsafe behaviour, resulting in a maximum reduction of occupational accidents.

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Raising the level of safety culture
Improving working conditions improves worker safety. Thus, achieving optimal working conditions and reducing risks to an acceptable level result in improved safety. However, providing the right conditions is not enough if employees do not distinguish themselves through a high safety culture. If technical and systemic safety solutions are already in place in a company, safety improvement can only be achieved by raising the safety culture.

Creating a high safety culture within a company requires that the employer is perceived by employees as being committed to safety and to protecting the life and health of employees, but this is not the only requirement.

Particularly noteworthy in terms of shaping a safety culture is training, which aims to create the right attitudes and raise the awareness of employees within a health and safety culture. As a high safety culture definitely reduces the number of accidents at work, these trainings allow to increase employees' awareness of health and safety and reduce the accident rate.

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After training, the employee is able to understand the benefits of a safety culture and will work safely because they want to, not because they have to.

In summary, to improve workplace safety in a company, it is crucial not only to ensure appropriate working conditions, but also to develop the individual sensitivity of employees who understand why it is important to work in accordance with rules and procedures and regulations.

Rafał Knotek-Trościanko
Training Manager of ODK Ergon