Equipment + Systems + People + safety circle

How to build a Positive Culture

SafetyCircle Culture, Leadership

Having worked with hundreds of workplace leaders who are facing the challenge of shifting the culture at work, we’ve seen the need to distil our thinking. We’ve developed a “rope” analogy to express how a number of ways and means come together into a strong unified whole to create a positive workplace culture. We assert that a positive Work Health and Safety culture can be built (perhaps ‘woven’).

In the lead up to our SafetyCircle Positive Cultural Leadership Intensive next week at Melbourne Zoo, we thought we’d share something we’ve found powerful in building positive workplace cultures using the unique SafetyCircle technology.

We also assert that this applies to the mental health and wellbeing of the workplace as much or more than the physical health and safety.

At the centre of the SafetyCircle approach are three interwoven core strands E – S – P :

Equipment – the ”hardware” – buildings, fittings, facilities, fixed and mobile plant, gear, engineering, structures – all the tangible stuff of the workplace

Systems – the “software” – such as IT systems, policies, procedures, forms, checklists, rules, work instructions and other administrative controls like signs, training programs, inductions – all the information we meant to know/follow/improve to get the work done

People – the “players” – we are all different and we inevitably bring our values, beliefs, behaviours, language and actions to work plus our willingness to learn, comply, be coachable – or not!


Equipment + Systems + People: Work Health and Safety performance depends on the quality and qualities of all your People.

Work Health and Safety performance depends on the quality and qualities of all your People.

These 3 core strands form the core of the safety culture and are what to investigate whenever there is a serious event that threatens physical or psychological safety. Our assertion is that the ESP is highly influenced by positive and negative cultural leadership. The “10 ply” model puts forward that a strong outer sheath of the following 10 strands can powerfully strengthen the culture to a highly positive state.

The 10 ply strands that make the “rope” of a SafetyCircle Positive Culture are in two main aspects; Values and Leadership; and WHS in Action (these are based on an international meta-analysis of Safety Culture climate surveys and literature by Dr B Brooks, University of Tasmania, in 2012) :

Values and Leadership:

  • Simplify health and safety
  • Make it Personal
  • Positive Agreements + Coachable
  • Make it Safe to Speak Up and Fair
  • Commit: Report, Measure and Improve

WHS in Action:

  • Close the Loop – take effective action
  • Visible Leadership – communicate!
  • Visible Change – resource workability
  • Interrupt the Unsafe and Unhealthy Justly
  • Manage Risks Well NOW

“Ten Ply” SafetyCircle with ESP at the core


From what we have seen, without the full complement of these strands the health and safety culture and performance, including any of your behavioural safety efforts (SafetyCircle or otherwise) does not achieve the potential strength or consistency throughout the workforce. If that happens, the culture will “break” when heavily testing by work pressures and intense competing demands.

As leaders, our job is to strengthen the culture so that it performs resiliently under pressure.

This is what we call “highly reliable” or even “ultra reliable” at its very best – and is a hallmark of Highly Reliable Organisations. And it is the leaders of the organisation who must lead such improvements and transformations.

Another way to understand the ESP is to recognise that it ALL rests on your people and culture. Your organisation can have the best Equipment and Systems but if your people (or your contractors and visitors) do not use them, ignore them, forget them, trash them, then your performance suffers and risks catastrophe – just look at Deepwater Horizon, or Piper Alpha, or 9-11, or the Space Shuttle disaster, or any recent serious incident in your workplace – positive engaged people and a positive culture throughout the organisation or network would have prevented over 98% of the root causes.

So. fundamentally, what makes it all work are the people:

  • Workers must protect themselves and their work-mates – workers have the most to lose and the most control of the choices and actions that either keep them safe and healthy, or run the risk.
  • Leaders must lead. Executives, board members, managers, supervisors and team leaders are “leaders” – your leadership will determine whether your organisation or work group succeeds in getting the work done safely.
  • Teamwork makes safety work. It takes a co-operative spirit to get everyone home safe and well each day. Everyone’s choices in the organisation affects others’ safety and health (including from procurement right through to mental health). Building team and cross-functional co-operation is fundamental to a positive workplace culture.