Teaching employees to follow health and safety (H&S) regulations needs to be integrated into business culture, says Matthew Bailey.
09 January 2019 | Matthew Bailey
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says an organisation's safety culture depends on individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to and style of H&S management.
H&S has improved considerably in the UK, with workplace fatalities dropping from 37 in 2015-16 to 27 the next year.
Alongside legislation and regulation, improved risk assessment, and better safety procedures, training and equipment are playing a part.
A business with a negative safety culture, poor leadership and direction, will see low employee engagement. So action must be taken to safeguard employees - especially at higher risk.
Beyond commercial benefits
Look at resources allocated to H&S and the precedence it has over aspects of the business such as cost or profit.
If employees see the main focus is commercial benefit, it is unlikely they will think the business cares about safety.
Think about how you can engage people from across the business. For a positive H&S culture, all levels of the business need to take ownership for safety.
Two effective ways to do this include:
- Setting up a H&S working group with people from across the business, each bringing their own knowledge and working practices to improve other parts of the business.
- Involve senior management, as the best managers are seen to lead by example. Identify a senior leader who can assist you. Choose someone who can leverage influence especially at board level. Let them be your H&S ambassadors and get them talking about business benefits such as increased productivity, smarter working and cost savings, and always relate your H&S initiatives to these positive outcomes.
Communicate across the business
Taking employees' H&S concerns seriously is key to boosting morale. Management has a duty to field questions and seek feedback from FMs.
In-house publications offer a good platform to answer questions while encouraging safe behaviour and general H&S awareness in a workforce.
Incorporating information on H&S into material on another, more easily digestible, topic is another effective way of getting a message across.
Using real-world examples - incidents that have happened or those that easily could - illustrates the importance of safety. By placing them in the work setting, employees easily associate the action with the environment. If you're talking about a situation in a particular part of the building or business, physically take staff concerned into that space (assuming it is safe to do so) and point out the hazards and issues.
The importance of training
Businesses need to understand that not all training will be up to scratch. Dedicated training providers will ensure that thorough guidance is delivered to all participants, leaving them engaged and understanding how they can do their jobs even better.
Training is designed to change perceptions and improve standards - which is especially important when working at height with very high risks.
Across the industry, education and training is being ramped up to make sure safety is at the forefront of people's minds. This is clear to see in vocational education, for example, where safety training is incorporated into the teaching syllabus.
An increase in education and training will inevitably help to transform H&S culture and lead to a future workforce that expects higher standards from their employers.
We can see this taking place already with statistics from the HSE showing fatal injuries at their lowest rate among those aged 16-34.
In-house training is just as important as external. Refresher courses taught by peers can be useful as they will be able to provide the real-world context that an external trainer who is unfamiliar with business practices might not. You can consider saving time within the business by offering these as working lunches.
Changing H&S culture isn't about a facilities manager having a command-and-control mindset; the focus should be much more on daily habits, changing attitudes and working on the way employees think.
Matthew Bailey is divisional manager - inspection & certification at HCL Safety