This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.
Health and safety is something we all love to hate. It takes up time, requires constant attention, and often feels like something designed to constrain us from doing what we want, serving our clients fully and generally getting on with enjoying our lives. The fact is, that it is important to prevent people from taking unconstrained risks. But if you get a bunch of your staff together and ask them to design a policy that will protect them and their customers, to ensure that they can all live long and happy lives, without getting hurt at work, most of the time, they will produce the same set of rules as any ‘health and safety expert’ would.
But don’t just think about the negative reasons for health and safety policies – reducing harm and repetitional damage. Think about the positive benefits of wellbeing, productivity, and effectiveness.
You need to develop four assets:
- A policy
- A plan
- A culture
- A system
Let’s look at each.
Start with an overarching goal that will set the framework for your policy, and then do a thorough risk assessment of all of your organisation’s activities. Involve staff from all areas and levels in this. Make sure you understand all of the relevant legislation in your jurisdiction and then write a principles based policy. Link it to other areas of your organisation’s strategy and show how it contributes to your wider mission, vision and values. Use this as the basis of applying for a sufficient budget to fund your planning process and, subsequently, implementation and ongoing maintenance and review.
Once again, involve a broad cross section of your staff in documenting a plan that covers the whole scope of your activities. Make careful choices about how prescriptive the plan is in each area: balancing legal and regulatory requirements against people’s need for autonomy and their ability to make intelligent choices. Set clear standards and targets, identify all tasks, resource them and allocate responsibilities, and put time scales against each one. Are you going to offer incentives? What about whistleblowing procedures?
Areas that your plan could cover include:
- Working conditions: heat, light, ergonomics, ventilation.
- General accident prevention: manual handling, trip hazards, steps and archways.
- Specific accident prevention: chemical, thermal, radiological, electrical, or mechanical hazards.
- Hygiene: food handling, washroom, waste disposal.
- General health: exercise, eating, general illness, alcohol, nicotine and other drugs.
- Stress and overwhelm: working hours, breaks, counselling, shift work, bullying, and respite.
- Crisis procedures: fire, security breach, equipment failure, industrial hazards.
- Special needs: minors, disabilities, pregnancy.
This is the biggest one of all – if you get this right, the others are simply a formalisation of your culture. If it is wrong, then no amount of planning and systems will keep everyone safe. Invite all employees to think about their safety and wellbeing, and make them a fundamental priority. Make it a conspicuous management priority, to role model good behaviour, and appoint employee representatives and champions to garner workplace support. Provide full training opportunities and actively monitor people’s attendance, performance, and need for new or refresher sessions.
Put in place systems to measure performance and review policy and planning on a regular basis. Conduct inspections internally, using staff representatives, and also consider external reviews from time to time. Evaluate everything you do, from record keeping, absence rate and incident reports to staff perceptions, tidiness and cleanliness, and management agendas.
Three websites will help British readers and will also have a wealth of useful information for those of you from further afield. If you find a good website in another country, please do tell our readers about it using the comments.
- The Health & Safety Executive – HSE
- ROSPA – The Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents
- The British Safety Council
For US readers, there is the National Safety Council.