Safety Culture-Gap Management (SGM)

This paper sets out a summary of a technique which has been developed for managing safety culture performance in projects and organisations, typically involving designers and contractors. We refer to the technique as Safety Culture-Gap Management or SC-GM.

Safety Culture-Gap Management
Safety Culture-Gap Management

It is often the case that unless a serious incident occurs on a construction site, companies involved with the construction process (designers and contractors) devote little thought to how good their "health and safety culture" actually is.

The driving principle behind SC-GM is that the safety culture of an organisation, from the top to bottom, determines its health and safety performance. However, the gap between what the safety culture actually is, compared to what is wanted, is often very significant. This Culture-Gap, between planned and actual, is critical, because, in the event of a serious accident, directors and senior managers are held accountable for the management of the safety culture of their organisation. Therefore it is imperative that they are aware of any shortcomings that may exist.

To manage the safety culture, as with managing any subject, first it has to be measured. It is important to differentiate here between the aspirational requirements, which may be represented by long term thinking, and the current planned requirements, which are short term, measurable objectives. For SC-GM to work effectively, both an aspirational and planned health and safety culture need to be addressed.

SC-GM puts forward a simple and practical approach that takes into account the influences from the top of the organisation down to the workforce, including the supply chain if appropriate. The technique deals with the influence and management of organisational values, behaviours, knowledge and systems, VBKS.

To measure VBKS, the SC-GM technique requires the critical analysis of a mock fatal accident, preferably based on a recent near miss that may have occurred. This tests the ability of the project or organisation, firstly, to cope with such an emergency in the short term, and secondly, to withstand a rigorous accident investigation which will take a comprehensive look at the way in which the project or organisation is managed and how it performs in practice.

This process will generate information that will enable the directors and senior managers to review the actual health and safety culture compare to the planned culture, and then to put into effect changes that might be needed to bring about a cultural alignment.

The exercise, or a series of such exercises, will provide evidence to a court if needed, that the directors and senior managers are taking a responsible approach towards their health and safety of their employees and others affected by the undertaking of the project or organisation.

Authors and contributors, Tony Putsman, Bob Arnold, John Carpenter, Graeme Walker, Peter Crosland from the ICE Expert H&S Panel and David Ackerley - Arup.

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