Cultural and behavioural change - Can health and safety be nudged in the right direction?

by Sophia Darwin

On June 26th a collection of 11 passionate senior leaders within the food and packaging manufacturing sector gathered at Mars’s manufacturing site at Kings Lynn to share best practice, discuss culture and behavioural change, and come up with new and innovative solutions.

Chris Rowlands from HSE Recruitment Network opened the roundtable and began our morning by discussing the main points we believed needed to be covered :-

  • Defining company culture
  • Can company culture and safety culture ever be independent?
  • Managing the culture and behavioural change programme
  • Engagement of stakeholders

Our host, Gary Piper, HSE Manager with 8 years of Health and Safety experience across sites at Wrigley and Mars ; kicked the roundtable off with an engaging presentation, giving us a deeper and exclusive insight into Mars and the way that he enriches cultural and behavioural change.

Gary started by outlining the sites journey from a negative and reactive culture (where discussing HSE matters was secretive and the only indicators measured were LTAs and near misses) to a more positive and proactive stance with an open and free culture. He went on to explain how the positive H&S culture was achieved, through a continuous cycle of good leading indicators, LTA’s / LOTO violations and feedback/action/results.

Gary discussed the injury probability and his “roll of the dice” theory of how his workforce will be injured if they continued with their current process. When an action is carried out and risks are unnoticed or ignored then the “injury dice” is rolled. He came up with a simple but effective concept to reverse and change the probability of injury by recognizing and understanding the risk, and then minimising said risk before the action occurs which resulted in a reduced probability of harm.

The right systems and campaigns have aided them to get where they are today, from user friendly and bespoke reporting systems on a hand held tablet that everyone has access to, to anonymous question boards dotted around the site. They also use visible and noticeable “target zero” and “live safe” campaigns which drives home the points to the workforce and imbedded the change in behaviour needed to effect the long term cultural improvements.


“Visible leadership commitment at all levels of the organisation”


Gary went on to share that “Visible leadership commitment at all levels of the organisation” is the most important and essential element to achieve if you want to have continuous positive culture and behavioural change.

The correct use of KPIs was discussed, and that there should be a focus on leading proactive indicators rather than lagging indicators. The group pulled together to discuss what leading indicators should include.

Key takeaways from Gary’s presentation and group discussion

  • Buy in from the senior management team
  • Commitment and Engagement
  • Right body language and communication skills
  • Be visible

Engagement from the roundtable was fantastic, a big thank you is due to all attendees for sharing their personal experience, as well as solutions that were successful in their business including;

  • A focus on Life Changing Events (Or SIF’s) as they are more commonly known
  • Information on a company called Diphex, who provide a superior Last-Aid Product
  • “spot it sort it “ which increased the closure rate
  • Change in body language ( neutral and passive) and reduction of tone when having safety conversation to remove the feeling of “blame”
  • Use of vacuum excavation to reduce manual handling incidents
  • If in doubt “lockout”
  • Fair blame matrix
  • Roadmap / three year plans should be signed by all senior leadership team to increase credibility and to make sure they are accountable which will increase buy in from across the work force.


“Interesting and inspirational advice”


After the presentation we had a great Q&A session where everyone was open, honest, asking great questions and providing interesting and inspirational advice. Such questions included “what does good leadership commitment look like?” and “Do ergonomics factor in to culture change”.

John from Brewdog wasn’t able to attend but submitted a question in advance for us to discuss, “How do you cement or embed safety culture when your company is growing so quickly?” and the group suggested that the best time to to get it right is with the new recruits. They suggested implementing a strong and engaging induction from the get go and training on mock up lines if possible to make it interactive and realistic. This would make the new additions to the company open to the importance of Health and Safety and could help to establish a more positive behaviour and culture. An idea that was very well received was to get all new workers to do two weeks as a Safety rep as part of their induction which is great way to stop the creation of safety “blockers”. It also allows everyone to get a taste for health and Safety which can help identify new safety talent further down the line.


“Strong and engaging induction”


Steff from Sonoco asked Gary “How do you deal with knock backs?” in reference to cultural change and Gary shared that in his experience knock backs strengthen the teams resolve and help them to pull together with more confidence and belief in HSE.


“More confidence and belief in HSE”


Angus from Kerry Group asked “When do you feel like you have made it ?” which was answered by Gary and the rest of the attendees that “it will never happen”! Destination zero is great in theory and as a target but it was agreed that people always will put a spanner in the works - we are all human and naturally people look to cut corners. In Gary’s opinion, he feels like he has “made it” if he consistently is able to send people home safe.


“We are all human and naturally people look to cut corners”


Andy from AB World Foods & Westmill was interested to know how other companies, “balance an open culture to report all issues against consequences (such as gross misconduct for an individual)”. It was suggested from the group that we need open cultures and its essential that they feel that senior management care and will listen without judgement. We should also differentiate between errors and violations to move towards a Just Culture.


“Remove the fear of repercussions”


Once you have increased near miss and accident reporting the group commented that is always important to find out if the accident happened by human mistake or wilful dismissal – would the accident still have happened if someone else was in that position? This helps to then decide whether there is a training failure or systems failure. It was also noted that managers and senior staff members are not exempt!

Following on from Andy’s question, the use of languages was discussed and the importance of the right body language and verbalisation. The group highlighted the use of words which have negative connotations, for example the word “audit” can sound intimidating and fill individuals with dread; instead it might be better to call it a “safety review”. Instead of “near miss” you could say “a safety learning opportunity” which would improve the buy in of the work force and change their behaviour whilst supporting a more positive culture. Also its worth noting that the HSE professional should never apologise for picking up safety violations but should discuss them in the right way.


“Importance of the right body language and verbalisation”


The roundtable concluded with Marc, HSE Co-ordinator from Mars, leading all 13 us in full PPE through a factory walk round of the site, from the beginning of the production through to packaging. The tour was very eye opening and interesting, Marc explained the practicalities of what they have put in place and answered many of the group’s queries and questions. The tour was very interactive and the attendees shared lots of improvements and best practice with Mars.

One point Marc discussed which was great was the use of trigger boards placed at every line, these described the level of risk ( Red, Amber, Green) which is filled in and updated every shift during the handover process. Highlighted potential risks were rated 1-3 with notes to one side and this drives accountability for the shift manager and all the workforce on each shift.

In conclusion, the roundtable was a massive success with the attendees going home with reams of notes and ideas on how they can improve culture and behavioural change within their businesses and how it can be maintained for the foreseeable.

We would like to thank all of our delegates for their invaluable contributions and would love to hear more if they have any further thoughts. Thanks also to Gary and Marc at Mars for ably hosting us (and providing delicious drinks and snacks), and for leading us through the discussion and answering all of our questions!

If you are interested in further round table events or have any comments or queries on this one - please do get in touch and let us know via email or via our contact form.

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