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On Research: For an effective safety culture, avoid the ‘blame game’

Journal of Safety Research contributors talk about their work


What’s your study about?

Organizations tend to start assigning blame after an incident. “Who did this? We had the right policies in place. Someone screwed up.” It leads to an avoidance type of behavior. People are afraid if they speak up, somehow they’ll be blamed. There’s also this whole trend toward the temporization of the workforce. They’re not really invested in the whole idea of safety. What can we do to train this temporary workforce in the most suitable manner? The third thing we found was that many times organizations can be very checklist-driven when it comes to safety. But then safety failures still happen. Updating safety procedures in line with the changes in workplace conditions is important.

What are the biggest takeaways from the study?

Don’t take anything for granted. Just because you have hired a safety consultant and developed this whole beautiful safety plan, it means nothing unless it’s implemented, unless your employees – especially temporary staff – are on board. Shortcuts will be taken. Safety standards will be violated. And one day an incident will happen.

What surprised you about the results?

I was surprised by how casual some of these companies and managers were. Safety is where everybody’s lives depend on it. I didn’t get that sense of urgency and importance, and that shocked me.

In what ways does your research directly affect workers?

If workers aren’t enabled, they don’t have the right tools and they don’t have the right training, then a disaster is just waiting to happen. If organizations pay heed to these issues, it should help workers do a better job of maintaining safety and avoiding incidents.

What industries will most benefit from your research?

Organizations that are largely process-driven, such as manufacturing, power plants, energy, oil and gas, mining, etc.

Any limitations to this study?

We ended up focusing a bit too much on the manufacturing, mining and engineering type of sectors. Future research will probably look at other sectors, because these will bring their own unique challenges, even in an office setting.

What’s the next step in your research on this topic?

Why should safety research be published only in safety journals? It should be discussed in boardrooms. It should be part of management strategy. I would like to take this line of research into mainstream management journals.

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