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Health and Safety and Organisational Culture with Tim Marsh

Creating and Nurturing Culture in Organisations | Tim Marsh (Safety Thoughts #1)


In this podcast, Tim Marsh talks to us about some of the ways that businesses can go about creating a culture that is good for both them and their workers. Tim also looks at the power of culture and the positive impact that it can have.

We were privileged to have Dr. Tim Marsh of Anker and Marsh come and shoot a short series of videos for the HSE Network covering areas in health and safety like culture and also Heinrich’s Principle.

In this podcast, Tim breaks down culture looking specifically at three questions you can ask yourself to determine if your organisation has a strong health and safety culture. The questions are shown below:

  • do you have a good learning culture?
  • have you actually got good systems and procedures?
  • have you got transformational leadership for empowerment?

Tim talks through examples that can help answer the questions and how to improve culture from a health and safety perspective in your workplace.

In addition to the podcast, the full video episode is available in the link shown below.

Read full transcript

Hello. My name is Tim Marsh, Managing Director of Anker & Marsh Consultancy, visiting Professor, Plymouth University. What we’ve put together for you here are three interconnected short pieces for HSE Network.


This first piece is really all about the power of culture. We often say culture is king. We certainly want all our systems and procedures and policies to be in place. We certainly want flags on the walls and the CEO to say nothing is more important than safety, but all those things when you’re talking about excellence, they’re just a very definition of a necessary but not sufficient. What you really want is a strong culture.

And the great news about a strong culture is it impacts on everything. It impacts on quality, it impacts on mental health and well-being as well as safety. Really my model of culture is based on Arjun’s classic model, which talks about norms, unspoken assumptions and so on that really have an impact on people on a subconscious level.


And all that stuff about nudging and front brain, back brain, thinking fast, thinking slow is relevant. But really there’s three elements of a culture that determine those norms, those unspoken assumptions. And the first one is, do you have a good learning culture? But you know, Andrew Hopkins articulate this really well when he talked about the mindful safety concept where he said that all organizations are full of problems.


The better organizations are going out and finding out what those problems are. Weaker organizations wait for the problems to find them. The second element as I’ve already said, is have you actually got good systems and procedures? Have you hit diminishing returns with that? And the third one is, have you got transformational leadership for empowerment?


Not engagement. Engagement isn’t the same thing as empowerment. Engagement is, I’ve had an idea of what you think? Empowerment is a much more dynamic, interactive process. And so, if you’ve got those three things firing on all cylinders, diminishing returns from your systems are really good approach to learning and really good transformational or sometimes people call it servant leadership, you’re fine.


So, a learning approach really has an objective, a mature and adult approach to error. And we understand that people won’t just make mistakes. Here’s a really good example. I shared a stage a couple of years ago with a guy who called himself “the losingest jockey in the history of horse riding.” He was an Irish jockey and he pointed out that he’d had 14,000 losses as a professional jockey.


Plus he had the record for falling off a horse and the record for broken bones. And he goes through these stories. And then the twist is of course, and he says, “As well as being “the losingest jockey in the history of horse riding,” I am also “the winningest jockey in the history of horse riding” with more than 4,200 wins, also a record.” And the point that he makes is if you’re going to excel, if you’re going to really strive for excellence, you’re going to fail a lot.


You know, Dyson had a hundred failed prototypes before he made money on the 101st, you know, and Einstein summed it up really well when he said people who’ve never made mistakes never really tried to do anything. So, what you want is a really good mature approach to learning. Based on just culture, we know that a lot of things will be unintentional errors set up by the environment.


A lot of things will be violations set up by a supervisor saying something to you like I want this job doing safely but by Friday. And we all know that that means you’re going to get it by Friday as safely as possible. So, what we need is a really good mature analytical I am assuming you’ve got a reason for what you did until proven otherwise approach to safety.


And that means asking why curiously and it means getting in front of temptation and asking the question, is there anything slow, inconvenient or uncomfortable about doing this job safely? And in recent years, of course, this has been articulated ever so well by the Safety Differently Movement, safety to some people know it as who say that the core of a really good leadership approach is to ask the question, well, I know that you want them to be safe and productive, I want you to be safe and productive, what do you need from me?


So, transformational leadership, the second string of that, transformational leadership to really empower and engage the workforce. Transformational leadership is really being aware of the fact that you are leading by example at all times whether you want to or not. It’s always being aware of the shadow that you’re throwing. It’s about praising rather than criticizing the one minute manager catch a person doing something right because that’s 20 times as effective as criticism.


It’s about coaching rather than telling to really engage the person and switch them on because if you ask the right questions in the right way, you get, boom, I see what you mean, and you take that away with you. So, all of that gives you empowerment. It gives you ownership, it engages you in the whole process.


And a simple example of that coming up. So, a simple and slightly controversial example of being really engaged in the management of risk or the furnace in the management of risk. Risk awareness is a key element, but actually engaging and managing risk is another matter. Very simple example. You have your children, you teach them about pelican crossings.


You certainly want them to press the button and wait for it to turn green before they walk. But what you don’t want them to do is to press the button, wait for it to turn green and walk blindly. You know, that’s dangerous. You have to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and how it works. So, to make that clear, if you have a child that crosses the road where they shouldn’t, a 100 yards down the road from the pelican crossing, but as they do that, they really heads up unaware of the risk and managing the situation as they go.


That’s safety, that’s safer than blind compliance where they press and walk. So, in summary, culture is king. Culture is made up of three things. One, have you hit diminishing returns with your systems, your procedures, your inductions, your training, all that. Two, do you have a mature and objective analytical approach to learning because things are going to go wrong and how you respond is incredibly important, both from a learning perspective and from the shadow that that throws.


And number three, do you have a transformational approach to basic leadership where you’re engaging in parroting and having quality and parroting dialogue? And if you’ve got all those three working, you probably got a very strong and safe culture.