Why Building A Good Safety Culture Is A Bit Like Baking A Loaf Of Bread

In the UK, we love a bit of The Great British Bake Off.

For our friends in Europe and North America, the concept might sound a little bit dull. Twelve contestants compete to become the best amateur baker in the country, undertaking baking challenges, with one eliminated each week.

However, watching someone’s gingerbread house collapse or seeing their soufflé fail to rise is surprisingly tense and exciting.

One of the most anticipated episodes is always 'bread week', where unsurprisingly the contestants make various loaves of bread.

Obviously, there are lots of kitchen health and safety issues we could touch on, but the overwhelming metaphor in my EHS brain is about how developing a safety culture within an organisation is very much like the process of making bread. How so? Knead on! (Read on….)

Step 1: Kneading

Kneading is the process of mashing all your ingredients together to make a dough for your bread. All these ingredients must come together, or your bread will be lacking that cohesion it needs.

Similarly, for a strong safety culture, everyone should work as a team to make it a reality. This is usually top down: bread cannot rise without yeast, and safety culture cannot work without leadership.

To do this, you must set success metrics, such as accident rates or near misses, and by what timescales. Finding the right ingredients for your metric is important, something you can decide as a whole company.

It’s a bit harder for baking, where the ingredients are dictated by the recipe. Fortunately, you’re in control here and can decide what’s going to work for your own batch. But perhaps most crucially, your attitude and actions are the driving factors – the dough, if you like – that everything is going to rely on. Who’s ever enjoyed bread without dough?

The recipe for success:

  • 500g of worker research
  • 400g of scoping out your existing systems
  • 20ml of building up relationships
  • 600g of leadership

(Measurements are approximate.)

Once you have your plan, your metrics and your attitude (A.K.A. the ingredients are kneaded together), it's onto stage 2.

Step 2: Proving

This stage is where the yeast is left to settle and the bread rises up as the yeast and air take effect.

The easiest way to fuel rise of your safety culture is by ensuring it is visible on a daily basis. Building an atmosphere of trust is paramount, too. Often workers will avoid reporting incidents due to fear of retribution, which something like a positive intervention initiative can help with (alongside, obviously, praise of reporting).

Of course, celebrating success is also important. If your company cuts incidents by 10%, share it with all staff. In fact, recent research found that productivity improved most when workers were incentivised by compliments. In second place was pizza… yes, humans really are that easily pleased.

The last element is accountability. That means setting up responsibilities and roles for people within the organisation, be it reporting or pushing the culture. The proof is in the pudding (or the bread in this instance). Once people have their responsibilities, and each player has risen to the task of these roles, it’s onto the final stage.

Step 3: Baking

Baking breadThe bread has risen, and now it’s time to bake it to perfection. You’ve set the temperature, pre-heated the oven and selected the desired setting. Now it’s time to let the elements of your plan get to work.

Of course, the temperature (tools) may need adjusted and you’ll need to keep peering through to make sure all is well, but you’ve given your workers the factors they need (the dough, the yeast, the oven and the heat (wait, did you have a hot work permit?)).

The best advice we can give now is report, report, report.

Only by reporting incidents and near misses (and emphasising the importance of logging them) can you know what’s going on and make decisions appropriately. Without the information you need I suppose it’s a bit like the technical challenge in Bake Off, where contestants have little instruction and often have no idea what they are making. And it usually turns out bad.

Is your system fit for purpose? If not, you can rebuild it. Similarly, if your loaf is burnt (maybe incident reporters felt punished or the temperature was set too high) and not fit for consumption, chuck it in the trash.

Safety is never finished

From the ingredients to the height at which you place the oven tray, each step contributes to the finished product. Every factor, every one is important. Unlucky for us, safety is never finished and it doesn’t taste so good with Nutella.

Of course, being safe is important, much more important than your dough being cooked all the way through. If you feel like your business would loaf to have a look at our safety management software, check out some of our demo videos here.

Now excuse me, I am off to have a slice of toast...