Psychological safety can be described as the belief that one can speak up without risk of punishment or humiliation. And it’s been well established as a critical driver of high-quality decision making, healthy group dynamics and interpersonal relationships, greater innovation, and more effective execution in organisations.
In a high performing safety culture, we need people to feel they can speak up about mistakes and make suggestions for improvement without the fear of blame. This, in essence, is a ‘just and fair culture’.
There are three cultures of safety accountability: blame, no blame and just and
fair. Each describes how people are treated in the event of an incident. In poorly developed safety cultures the default position is almost invariably to blame the individual if an incident happens.
No blame considers almost all contributing factors such as leadership, training, engineering but fails to adequately address contributing behaviours. A just and fair safety culture is when people at all levels recognise and understand their responsibilities for safety.
Well-developed just and fair safety cultures will feature fair treatment of individuals in the event of incidents, recognition systems for safe behaviour and people understand they can be held accountable for their actions.
They understand this is on the basis that any apparently substandard practice will be objectively examined to ensure people are not victimised. Gross negligence, wilful violations and destructive acts are not tolerated.
Steve Beswick, Tribe Lead Consultant, says, “Just and fair culture is much more about building confidence and trust so that if you do speak up, you will be treated fairly and that a consistent approach will be taken no matter which leader is involved. It’s not just about either having a ‘blame’ or ‘no blame’ culture. Employees know when something is unfair and unjust. These perceptions influence how they view the organisation they work for, its leadership and even their own line manager.”
He continues, “What then typically follows is a long list of negative outcomes such as reduced engagement levels, poor safety climate and even some form of retribution such as not reporting a near miss or excluding safety critical information at a handover.”
We’d expect to see the following:
Depending on who you ask in the organisation you may get a different answer. Perhaps your leaders feel they deal with people fairly, but from the perspective of an employee, things may be perceived differently – especially if incidents are dealt with inconsistently or there’s a lack of open and honest feedback.
If your near miss incident reporting is very low, it’s possible everyone is working safely all the time, but it’s more likely that people don’t feel confident that they will be treated fairly if they share a close call.
The best way to get an accurate picture is to carry out a Safety Culture Assessment. This will ascertain your organisation’s current culture.
A Culture Assessment should indicate the level of culture maturity. It should also show whether blame, no blame or just and fair prevails.
There are a number of elements to make the transition to just and fair:
But this list isn’t exhaustive. Steve says, “As concepts, ‘fair’ and ‘just’ are bigger than safety culture and I believe there are many other non-safety related opportunities to show organisational fairness to employees. For example, having effective organisational learning and restorative justice processes. Or an organisation could invest in management development to specifically help managers build higher levels of trust with their teams.”
Steve believes these aspects help create the readiness conditions in which a richer, multi-dimensional version of the just culture concept can have the chance to flourish. “Good safety leadership is just good leadership I seem to recall someone once saying,” he adds.
Where do you think your organisation is on the journey to becoming just and fair?
To learn more and find out how we can help you, get in touch or find out about Chrysalis Culture Hub – our online platform to support every aspect of your culture change journey including developing a just and fair culture.