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Safety Culture vs Compliance – Why Both Matter

Safety Culture vs Compliance – Why Both Matter

When you hear the terms “safety culture” and “compliance”, it’s easy to think they’re interchangeable. But the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Both elements are key in running a successful, safe, and lawful organization, yet they serve different purposes.
So, what is the difference between safety culture and compliance? Why is it vital that we understand this difference and implement both in our workplaces?

The Role of Compliance

Compliance is necessary: it involves adhering to requirements set by regulatory authorities. These rules and standards set the basis for ensuring workplace safety. Whether it be through preventative or protective measures, the ultimate goal is to protect employees from getting hurt or sick through their work.

  • It safeguards the organization from potential legal repercussions, financial penalties, and reputational damage.
  • Gives measurable easy to follow guidelines.
  • Setting industry standards ensures that all organisations are aware of their minimum obligations.

Why Just for Compliance’s Sake Doesn’t Work

  • Employees act safely because they are told to, not because they want to.
  • This is a reactive approach where we should be aiming for a proactive approach.
  • Employees often don’t understand the why behind the message when only focusing on compliance.
  • Safety measures based purely on compliance are only effective when managers are present to enforce the rules.

Safety Culture: More than Just Rules

While many confuse safety culture with compliance, there is much more to it than just following rules. Safety culture is an organisation’s shared values, beliefs, and behaviours concerning workplace safety. In short, it’s not just about what we do, but more importantly, why we do it.

Ideally, a strong safety culture maintains that every task must be performed in the safest possible way—not because the law requires it, but because it’s the right thing to do. It creates an environment where safety is not merely a rule but a strong value of the organisation.

  • A strong safety culture will:
    • Communicate the why behind the safety measures.
    • Encourage a proactive rather than a reactive approach to safety – prioritising prevention.
    • Reward good behaviour instead of punishing bad behaviour.
    • Include employees in conversations about safety.
    • Drive safety into the heart of the organisation.
  • It has the power to drive performance improvement, increase efficiency, and significantly lower the number of workplace accidents.

Why Both Matter

While a strong safety culture is vital, without compliance, it’s an incomplete puzzle. Compliance serves as the framework upon which a safety culture is built.

Think of safety culture and compliance as two sides of a coin. Without one, the other loses its value, like a coin with a missing side. Safety culture without compliance might lack structure, while compliance without the heart of safety culture might become robotic, losing its meaning and value to the workforce. They’re two critical components that complete the puzzle of a safe and successful work environment.

So …

When it comes to safety culture vs compliance the conclusion is simple: they complement each other to create an environment that cares for the health and safety of the workforce while adhering to the law.

To be industry leaders in safety, we must balance both of these elements without separating or favouring one over the other.

Does your organisation have the right balance? If not PHSS can help…

Moulding a strong safety culture while aiming for perfect compliance can be a daunting process. It requires ongoing tweaking, training, assessing, and above all, commitment from everyone in the organisation.

Here at PHSS we can guide you through the process to ensure you have a sustainable and efficient safety programme. Find more information here.

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