Health and Safety: more than just ‘safety’?

08 October 2021

With the number of work-related stress, depression or anxiety cases reported rising, instilling a positive health and safety culture is more important than ever.

Safety culture has been defined as “the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies and behaviours that determine the commitment to and proficiency of an organisation’s H&S management”. In simpler terms, safety culture can primarily be referred to as the way things are done in your workplace.

With an historic focus on safety, the ‘health’ part of health and safety is now very much under the spotlight with mental health being recognised as of fundamental importance in achieving a positive health and safety culture: from the wellbeing of the individuals concerned to maximising productivity and reducing injury and illness in the workplace.

If your employees are struggling, the likelihood of them producing their best is minimal; if employees are distracted they are more likely to make an error. We are all aware of the things we can do to help improve employee health but organisations with good health and safety cultures positively encourage and facilitate it.

Some organisations utilise mental health first aiders, and these can certainly be very good at setting the tone and encouraging an open dialogue, others encourage employees to cycle to work. Whatever steps are taken they must be part of a holistic approach. Businesses must appreciate the importance of mental health as a vital part of its health and safety culture.

Key aspects of a positive health and safety culture are:

  • compliance
  • engagement 
  • learning and leadership.


Compliance with health and safety regulations is essential. Failure to comply can have a significant impact on the business, the employees, and the individual directors or senior managers of the business. Many assume that after drafting procedures, compliance will automatically ensue, yet securing better compliance is a difficult task. Only where the motivation of the business and its people, and the regulatory aims intersect is higher compliance more likely to be achieved.


The HSE have conducted a number of studies relating to engagement: involving workers in health and safety leads to healthier and safer workplaces and produces a range of benefits for workers and managers. Workers are more likely to engage and participate if you give the correct training, make it easy to engage, gain ground level input and provide the right resources. This will lead to better compliance and improved outcomes.

Learning and leadership

Effective health and safety performance comes from the top. It is paramount that you lead by example; if management are willing to commit to health and safety, employees will follow suit and employee buy-in is critical in achieving a positive safety culture.

Organisations with positive safety cultures understand that incidents can occur at any time and have robust systems in place deal with them. When they do occur, they are effectively investigated internally and the root causes communicated to employees. Most importantly, they lead by example by learning from these incidents and ensuring it never happens again.

Employee health and how that influences safety is an area we are focusing upon in our upcoming Real Health and Safety Conference.

If you want help to review the current culture within your organisation, and advice as to how to improve it, Birketts’ Health and Safety Team has an array of experts on hand who can provide practical and realistic assistance.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at October 2021.


Julie Gowland

Legal Director

+44 (0)1603 756413

+44 (0)7827 747070


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