Health and Safety Gone Mad

Doing what we say rather than saying what we do.

I’ve never worked on the tools, at least, not in paid employment. Although it goes against my usual mantra of ‘never asking anyone to do something I wouldn’t do myself’, if you ever witnessed me using a hammer, you would understand why. I have, however, watched thousands of hours of others doing it. I’ve also studied health and safety in some depth and spent countless hours reviewing risk assessments, method statements, permits to work, competencies, construction phase plans, health and safety policies and recently even health and safety management systems. There are a lot of words in those documents, a lot of plagiarism and it’s easy to become disenchanted. Some might say it’s health and safety gone mad. How do we translate our health and safety duties into genuine workplace health and safety?

Saying What We Do

Ultimately, doing what we can to keep people safe at work is a no-brainer. If you think otherwise, you might as well stop reading now. NO ONE wants:

  • to be responsible for the injury, ill-health or death of a work colleague.
  • to end up in court for failing to protect the people we are responsible for.
  • a reputation for being a ‘cowboy’ contractor.

All of us in the construction and building services industry know the moral, legal and financial reasons for providing a safe workplace and ensuring there are safe working practices in place. But do we REALLY know them? Do we REALLY make health and safety a priority? Or do we give it just enough airtime to convince others that we do.

When has health and safety really ‘gone mad’?

Doing What We Say

There is often a disconnect between the words around health and safety and doing what is actually needed to keep people safe. Given the volume, complexity and repetitive nature of much health and safety legislation and documentation, I sympathise, to an extent. Whilst the documentation is essential, it’s easy to get lost in the minutiae. Additionally, a bit of paper is a poor substitute for a well-trained, experienced workforce with the right attitude. Assuming you have the documentation, processes, procedures and evidence covered (get in touch if you don’t), what can business leaders do to actually deliver a safe and healthy workplace?

Lead from the Top

Getting this right will singlehandedly make or break the collective attitude of your organisation to health and safety. If the people in charge don’t care, no one else will. When no one cares, people get hurt. Genuinely caring about the wellbeing of the people in your organisation does translate into a strong organisational culture built on trust. Caring is not difficult, and it is obvious in everything you do. Be it following your own site procedures, wearing appropriate PPE, visiting site and showing an interest in safe working practices, chairing meetings and making health and safety a key agenda item, discussing (and implementing!) improvement measures, providing sufficient funding, ensuring people are well-trained – your interest in their wellbeing WILL result in their own interest in their own wellbeing. When directors, managers, supervisors, leaders care about health and safety, the organisation knows that the business means business.

Be Consistent

You don’t need to remind yourself to breath so work on getting to a point where you don’t have to remind yourself to ‘health and safety’. Don’t make health and safety flavour of the month – integrate it into everything you do. Ensure there is a Construction Phase Plan and job-specific RAMS for EVERY job. Put procedures in place for dealing with unsafe acts, unsafe equipment, unsafe environments then FOLLOW them. Investigate accidents – properly – every time. Report hazards. If members of the organisation are negligent; confront them, listen to them, educate them and if absolutely necessary, discipline them.

Don’t put on the ‘health and safety’ show every now and again and then retire it until the next audit. A lack of consistency is the perfect excuse for employees and contractors to start pushing boundaries. If the organisation is not consistent in its approach to health and safety, no one will take it seriously.

Engage Others

Most people will pay lip service if they are asked to do something they don’t understand or don’t see any value in. This could not be more pertinent then when getting the workforce to comply with health and safety processes and procedures. If I had a pound for every rolled eye, every snigger, every ‘health and safety gone mad’ comment, every hasty donning of PPE as the H&S Auditor rounds the corner…well, I wouldn’t be writing this. Speak to your workforce about the best working practices. Discuss the most appropriate method statements, the biggest risks and best way to control them and the consequences when things go wrong. The people doing the work usually have the experience to offer the best solutions to working safely and if they can’t understand why a control measure is in place, discuss your reasoning with them.

When health and safety becomes a conversation, when your workforce are involved in protecting themselves and their colleagues, that is when people genuinely stay safe.

Improve Every Day

As with other areas of business, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s often unsaid and poorly addressed, but health and safety is sometimes compromised. If it happens, figure out why and put improvement plans in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Unless someone is being seriously negligent on site, incidents/accidents/unsafe practices are usually down to the collective failure of multiple parts of your health and safety management system. Review your processes, discuss improvements, fund them and implement them. It is unlikely you will ever BE perfect but in this area at least, you must SEEK perfection.

To not do so is health and safety gone mad.