A Health & Safety Culture

In the previous articles we saw how important it is to manage our businesses systematically, so that our activities are planned against pre-determined specifications that can be measured. In this way we can keep control over the business and direct our efforts towards delivering the business aims. The same is true for health and safety at work.

Health and safety management

Health and safety management is a strategic function just as financial management or personnel management are strategic functions. In the last article we discussed the first element of a good management system, which is the development of company policy; its aims and objectives. We now turn to the people who will deliver these policy aims and objectives. In this article we shall therefore examine how we can organise ourselves to do this, concentrating on some key issues related to staff.

In our health and safety policy we should have set out details of what we intend to achieve in terms of the well-being of our staff and anyone else who could be affected by our business activities. Clearly, it is our staff who will achieve these things for the business. From the managing director to the most junior person on the staff, everyone will have a part to play, although obviously some will be given more responsibilities than others. The aim should be to foster a situation where everyone knows what is expected of them, and where everyone becomes part of a positive health and safety culture. This is important so that good health and safety practice becomes the norm and staff accept the need for high standards, and willingly contribute to achieving them.

Developing clear roles

The importance of people knowing what is expected of them cannot be overstated. Everyone has a part to play in health and safety and people’s roles should be written down in some detail so that there is no confusion on this matter. We all know that often when something fails or when there is an omission at work, people say things like, ‘it wasn’t my responsibility’ or ‘I thought he was doing it!’

Health and safety duties

Clear, written details of health and safety duties help to overcome these problems. These can be spelled out in the organisation section of the health and safety policy. The aim here should be to allow individuals to take responsibility, but at the same time to build accountability into their roles. A supervisor for example might be given the freedom to develop his own rules for the area under his control, but he would also be expected to account for his performance within the organisation’s overall aims and objectives. Thus he is given a degree of autonomy, but ultimately he must deliver!

The definitions of the various health and safety duties should begin with those of the managing director. His or her duties might include such things as, providing adequate resources for health and safety, receiving monthly reports from managers, and ensuring that health and safety is a permanent agenda item at Board meetings. ‘Do as I do’, rather than simply, ‘do as I say’, is a powerful leadership message. There is nothing quite like leading by example!

Competence

When assigning roles and responsibilities it is essential to ensure that the individuals concerned are competent to perform the tasks required. This may sound obvious, but it is amazing how often we assume too much about people’s abilities. In health and safety for example, staff will not be able to carry out meaningful risk assessments unless they have been shown how! Competence can be said to be a combination of training, experience, skill, and authority. It is for those assigning tasks to ensure that the appropriate competencies exist among their staff.

One way forward with the issue of competence is to identify the core competencies that various groups require, and use them as the basis for training needs analysis. Thus in a company organised into departments such as, admin., production, transport and sales, one would identify the key tasks that need to be performed in each one. It should then be possible to tease out the essential competencies required to perform effectively. Staff can then be assessed against these competencies and any shortfalls can be addressed.

Health and safety culture

Culture might be said to be the shared values and norms that exist in a group of people. The culture in a workplace could be summed up by saying, it’s the way we do things around here. Management should put a great deal of effort into developing a positive health and safety culture in their organisations. In this way, staff reach the point where health and safety is considered at every stage of their work, and that deviation from this norm is frowned upon. They naturally adopt good work practices and they do not have to be continually checked and monitored. The UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) feels that there are four C’s which together help form a positive health and safety culture.

The 4 C’s

  • competence, – ensuring that all staff are competent,
  • control, – providing adequate supervision of staff and having effective management systems,
  • co-operation, – ensuring co-operation between all parties in the workplace and
  • communication, – maintaining dialogue with staff, giving and receiving feedback.

One might say that these elements should be present in any well-run organisation, but sadly this is not always the case. In health and safety however, the stakes are high, and so getting the right organisation in place, with staff who are competent, well motivated, and who subscribe to a common set of organisational values, is essential to success.

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