Organising for Safety: how structure creates culture
12th December 2019
More recently, Hopkins has adjusted the spotlight to consider more deeply the effect of leadership on safety (such as his excellent co-authored book Risky Rewards: how company bonuses affect safety: bit.ly/2JviV3r). In Organising for Safety, he argues that the culture of a business is determined largely by its organisational structure. Therefore, to improve culture, we must first deconstruct and then reconstruct the organisation so that the culture we desire can develop.
In exploring the notions of culture as cause, culture as description, and culture as a virus, the author provides useful perspectives. The hearts-and-minds approach, and safety concepts such Safety Differently and Safety-II, are examined in detail. So too are the traditional tenets of safety culture, including behaviour-based safety and felt leadership (leadership that is easily observable; makes a positive impression on those who see it; demonstrates personal commitment; pervades the organisation; and affects and involves all levels of employees and contractors).
Hopkins delivers deft discourse to explain how organisational structure shapes culture. As the summary notes, the book shows "how decentralised organisational structures allow profit and production to take precedence over safety while centralised risk control is conducive to a culture of operational excellence".
Laden with illuminating case studies, including Columbia, Oroville Dam, Texas City, Samarco and Enbridge -- and exploring the works of Sidney Dekker, Erik Hollnagel, Edgar Schein and Dominic Cooper, among others -- Hopkins provides a persuasive argument that robust organisational structure will reduce risk.
Organising for Safety could end here, having made its point, but Hopkins pushes forward to share ideas for action, introducing the notion of high-reliability organisations, offering examples of how to structure for safety, underlining the necessity of direct communication between company boards and the senior safety leader, and even going as far as discussing approaches to company bonuses and the remuneration of safety specialists.
We've often heard that 'culture eats strategy for breakfast'. But what makes culture hungry? The answer, Hopkins explains, is structure.
At 135 pages, you'll find a pragmatic, well-grounded and action-focused book that is highly recommended for senior leaders and OSH practitioners alike.