Let me start by asking some questions
- Do you drive?
- If yes would you drive at 80 miles per hour on a motorway?
- Would you drive at 80 on a dual carriageway?
- How about 80 on a single carriageway a road?
- How about 80 down a high street?
- Or in front of a primary school?
At some point, you will have come to a point where the answer is no.
If I refined the questions and asked a group of people, after a while we could more than likely agree upon a range of speed limits for different circumstances that we would be unhappy to exceed.
We would also agree a series of rewards and punishments for those who comply and those who fail to comply.
We could call this our mutual code of conduct.
Let’s park this thought for a moment.
Do you work for an organisation that has a dedicated health and safety director, manager or even team?
Often these individuals or teams are responsible for drafting the organisation’s policies and procedures, which in turn get signed off by the senior executive or board.
As a consultancy, we at THSP work in a very similar fashion, meeting with our customers’ management teams to identify who does what, when and how. We then create a policy manual and present it to them at what we call an installation meeting.
I like to think that we are diligent in our approach and speak to those workers we see during the process to get a better understanding of what happens.
Within your own organisations, there will be individuals employed for the specific knowledge or expertise they have of certain activities – in an engineering workshop this may be a lathe or guillotine or CNC operator, on construction sites it may be plasterer or scaffolder or bricklayer. Often these groups are referred to in safety documentation as operatives, employees or workforce and above them on the organization charts you may find supervisors, managers, etc.
These supervisors or managers may well have started their careers at the coalface and have some experience of some of the tasks carried out but maybe not all of them.
Similarly, your safety manager or consultant may have a good deal of experience being a safety professional but how much experience do they have of actually doing the various specialist tasks they advise upon?
So, we have two groups of people – those who understand health and safety law and those who understand the work being undertaken. It seems bonkers that we wouldn’t get the two working together to establish the best way to carry out our core business.
Walking in the footsteps of the Athenian philosophers
Before I expand on this though, I’d like to comment on a brief article I read about Clive Johnson at Land Securities. I first met Clive when he was the client’s representative at Heathrow Terminal 5. He would chair the monthly health and safety manager meetings as well as undertaking his own tours of the very large site. His attitude when spotting non-conformance or poor safety behaviours was not to attack and criticise the individual but to approach and question their reasoning behind it; often this highlighted a lack of understanding at management level as to how a task could be completed and the outcomes were always an agreed way forward that controlled the perceived risk.
Clive’s article ended on the reflection that “If you ever see pictures of the Greek philosophers mentoring people, they are always shown walking.”
Most meetings I attend are around a table – with a barrier between us – instantly establishing an us and them scenario.
In Clive’s model, we embark on a journey of learning together.
This isn’t a new idea
The HSE’s five steps to risk assessment advises employers to “Ask your employees what they think the hazards are, as they may notice things that are not obvious to you and may have some good ideas on how to control the risks.”
Furthermore, on their website they remind employers of the need for engagement but how can you achieve this?
- Talk to one another
- Listen to one another’s concerns
- Raise concerns and solve problems together
- Seek and share views and information
- Discuss issues in good time
- Consider what everyone has to say
- Make decisions together
Talking to, listening to and involving your employees helps to:
- Make your workplace healthier and safer
- Improve performance
- Raise standards
Behavioural based safety
At THSP, we have customers who are embracing this approach and are developing and implementing their own behaviour based safety programmes.
These programmes start with us carrying out an anonymous, root and branch culture survey. These surveys are designed to discover where they are, what their perceived strengths are and where their weaknesses lie.
Thereafter we deliver workshops throughout the year, plugging every employee from the board to the shop-floor into their safety management system.
At these workshops, we will often help the attendees to re-write their policies and procedures to reflect their true working practices whilst ensuring that they maintain legal compliance; more often than not these new procedures exceed mere compliance. They take the improvisation often seen as a way of short-cutting the red tape of health and safety and by making minor amendments incorporate it into best practice.
What is more, if we return to the driving scenario and look at our own codes of conduct, we, as the authors, are far less likely to deviate from our own professed best practices or to accept it when others fail to follow our rules.
Working in the real world
This is all well and good, but as I have been told countless times “this sort of thing won’t work in the real world” as the pressures of production and time mount up health and safety goes out of the window.
My answer to that is “do they have to?”
Under what circumstances would you be prepared to drive at 80 mph in front of my children’s school at 8.30 in the morning or to allow someone to do that in front of your children’s school?
A couple of years ago I read an interesting article about behaviour and culture, embarrassingly I cannot recall who wrote it, but it had a profound effect on me.
The author explained that he is a keen sports fan and will take his young daughter with him to watch live events.
At a rugby match, were a spectator to swear loudly at the referee or players it is most likely that someone nearby would pull them up and remind them that this sort of thing isn’t done at a rugby match and if they persisted those around would support that view and call upon a steward to have them ejected.
Not so at a football match.
So, the question is why?
The article suggested that the culture is so ingrained at rugby and shared by all those attending that when there is a drop below the expected standard it is picked up by the majority and addressed in the interests of all.
So, if we have an agreed set of standards, written by the whole, for the benefit of all, then everyone has an interest in maintaining them.
We all become our own safety officers and bringing to the attention of a colleague, a health and safety concern, becomes not a criticism but is seen as being beneficial to all.
This new set of standards isn’t however written in stone, or else it too becomes a monolith that drags the culture down. It must be open to change and review through the same consultation processes.
The outcomes of such a positive culture can be measured
Following a year of behavioural safety one customer reported a massive increase in the number of near misses – or as they now refer to them “close calls” all of which were addressed immediately by the observer or their line manager whilst they also reported zero lost time injuries – marking a significant reduction from the previous year.
They also had no RIDDOR incidents, where previously their best annual return had been two.
If you consider that, in 2014 the HSE calculated the cost of a seven-day RIDDOR absence to be, on average, £28,500, you can see that eliminating even one a year will make a significant saving.
Our customer, was able to invest that money into their behavioural safety programme and further strengthen their positive health and safety culture.
Ultimately the dream must be for health and safety to stop being something that is done by one group of people to another group of people on behalf of another group of people.
Chris Ivey, Health and Safety Director