Organising for Safety: how structure creates culture
Thursday 12th December 2019
From the archive: Just so you know, this article is more than 3 years old.
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.
Readers of Caroline Webb’s How to Have a Good Day and John Briffa’s A Great Day at the Office will feel they are on familiar ground here. As with her fellow authors, Natasha Wallace takes a user-friendly approach to ‘flourishing’ (at work, specifically).
Safety Science Research is a collection of studies drawing on the work of more than 25 authors. These include contributions from professors, doctors and lecturers who specialise in fields such as sociology, organisational behaviour, psychology and risk management. The material is broad and covers safety at work as well as industry sectors that include transport and engineering.
This book isn’t perfect. From a safety excellence perspective, we know that culture is king and that line management drives it. Therefore, seeing culture described as an “intriguing topic” raises an eyebrow, as does a tone that seems to assume Human Resources own and drive wellbeing rather than help line management to do so.
The overlap between two distinct areas of regulatory law – health and safety and environmental – can be strewn with complications. It follows, therefore, that explaining how to overcome these, and communicating solutions to lawyer and non-lawyer alike, would be a testing challenge. But it is one that the authors of HSE and Environment Agency Prosecution have risen to.
People Power is very much a book that reflects its time; as its subtitle suggests, this really does feel like 'the era of safety and wellbeing'. In this respect, the author does a fine job of mapping out how the perceived momentousness of this historical milieu might play out in the real-life work environment.