Impact of a Psychologically Safe environment on Health  and Safety Performance


Impact of a Psychologically Safe environment on Health and Safety Performance

Posted on 18 March 2024

Impact of a Psychologically Safe environment on Health and Safety Performance

Helen Gawor, Group Director of Strategy and Innovation at one of the UK’s largest construction companies, ISG gave a great talk at the recent IOSH Construction Conference, discussing the importance of psychological safety in the workplace. She touched on how an organisation can move towards a psychologically safe environment, the impact it has on the wider organisation and particularly health and safety performance.

She highlighted her journey from the digital world into construction and how ‘blame’ kept coming up when discussing the construction site environment. One key reason for this was very likely that there were low levels of psychological safety on the sites. This in turn has a negative impact on health and safety as it doesn’t empower people to speak up and voice concerns.

Helen was very quick to point out that ‘Psychological safety is not about being soft. It’s about driving standards upwards, there is a clear connection between these two.’

Indeed, Helen pointed to research that found higher performing teams actually record making more mistakes and Google also found this - their mantra: Fail fast! (Check out Google’s Project Aristotle).

Going further she mentioned ‘Interpersonal fear is real.’ And that ‘We don’t fear making mistakes. We fear the consequences of making mistakes’.

So, we know psychologically safer teams perform better and create safer and more productive environment. Surely there is a great opportunity here? The big question - why don’t we all have psychologically safe teams?

Well, this is complex and engrained in cultural norms built up over generations….so embedded they can be very hard to spot but as Helen mentioned some of the challenges include:

·        Fixed mindset v growth mindset

·        Authority bias

·        Legacy management norms ‘shouters on the team!’

·        Blame and the blame cycle

What is the solution? We ‘need modern leadership strategies’ and ‘we need to help everyone understand failure’. Two excellent pieces of insight from Helen. (Ruth Denyer, Co-President IIRSM and Senior Director, Production Health and Safety at Netflix touches on these in Irwin and Colton’s recent Safety Innovation video series).

The problem and solutions are complex however what is certain is that diversity and inclusion are key to achieve a psychologically safe environment. An environment where people feel able to bring their whole self to work and express themselves is fundamental in creating a psychologically safe environment.

How do you know you have it? The Harvard Business Review report suggests the following:

o   If you make a mistake on this team, it is not held against you.

o   Members of this team can bring up problems and tough issues.

o   People on this team sometimes accept others for being different.

o   It is safe to take a risk on this team.

o   It isn’t difficult to ask other members of this team for help.

o   No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.

o   Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.

As the workplace fatality rate in the UK has plateaued, there is an urgent need to identify a breakthrough. Is a psychologically safe environment the key to drive this down?


James Irwin is a Director at Irwin and Colton, a specialist health, safety and sustainability recruitment company.

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