Workers across the land have an expectation and a right to go home happy and in one piece at the end of the working day, without having suffered injury or ill health at work.
All workers are aware that there is a legal obligation for their employer to ensure their health, safety and welfare while they are at work. I am sure you will agree that many will “forget” that they have their own legal obligations to ensure they do not bring harm upon themselves or others while in your employment.
In fact, the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, section 7, specifically mentions this. Employees have been fined, and have gone to jail for breaching this law.
Health and safety is, rightly, everyone’s responsibility.
As an employer, you have to risk assess, to write policies and procedures, to provide training and instruction. You have to ensure that you not only protect your workforce and others, but also protect your own backs. The biggest defence an employee has in a court of law is by saying that they did not understand or know that they had to act in a particular way.
In this blog post, I am going to look at ten common things in the workplace that employees need to do in order to work safely. Most of them rely on you, as an employer, getting your health and safety management systems correct, and ensuring that employees are aware of their responsibilities.
As with many things in business, and in life, good communication is key!
10 Recruit an employee that is capable do the job
Ensure that who you employ is qualified or capable of doing the job in question. And if they aren’t – for example if they are a new apprentice – that you have put in measures from the start to ensure they are supervised, mentored, monitored and trained. Know people’s limitations.
There are some tasks that someone under 18 cannot do by law, so do not give them that role to do. Examples include serving alcohol, using a slicing machine in a delicatessen, lifting and carrying heavy loads, and shadowing someone evicting a tenant while on work experience.
9 Induction training
Get health and safety communication correct from the start with a new employee, and it will make life easier down the line. There is a lot for a new employee to take in when they start a new job role. You will be eager to get them started doing proper work as soon as possible, but it is important that a good and thorough health and safety induction takes place over a few weeks, and that periodic refresher training takes place throughout the employee’s career with you.
8 Company rules and procedures
Since the 1960s, health and safety legislation has been growing to what it is today. The United Kingdom leads the world with health and safety laws, and as a result we have one of the best accident records of any country in the world.
Because of these laws, rules and procedures within companies are often quite strict. They generally ensure that the company is compliant with legislation. And to a certain extent this works well. It works better when managers implementing the rules inform the workforce why they are being introduced. Sadly, in many businesses this fails.
Companies issue some sensible rules but because they don’t explain why they are in place, they can be ignored. For example, “no open toed sandals or flip flops in offices” is one I come across regularly. In summer this is often flouted in some businesses, but people can stub their foot, stand on something like a pin, or simply fall over themselves wearing the flip flops. I actually came across someone who broke their toes by running over them with the chair she was sat on whilst wearing flip flops. Explain this and the workforce will understand more.
7 Safety Culture and Behavioural Safety
In the US in the 1970s, and in the UK since the late 1980s, another type of safety as well as procedural safety has become more commonplace. Behavioural safety is not a substitute for procedural and rule-based safety, but a very useful add on. It makes the workforce more involved and gives them personal responsibility for their own health and safety and that of those around them.
Behavioural safety enables; it empowers; and it encourages workers to organise, control and improve the workplace around them. Workers are the ones that do the job. They know the solutions to the problems that job has if they are listened to.
Behavioural safety is a questioning attitude of personal responsibility and should involve employees at all levels of the company. This proactive approach to safety provides an early warning of accidents and incidents. Workers observe both safe and unsafe behaviours – observing what is seen and unseen.
A worker at the front line can make observations to spot things quicker and faster than waiting for managers. Empowering the workforce is the key to behavioural safety and to a good safety culture in any business.
6 Opportunity to share feedback
This is a part of a good behavioural safety strategy, to allow workers to share feedback on safety performance with managers, and vice versa. This encourages employees to have an involvement in safety issues in the workplace. It improves awareness, knowledge and perception of workplace risks. It deals with human factors, and how it is done.
Some larger companies even train people at all levels of the business as “Safety Observers”. This allows improvements in safety to be made with the support of upper management.
It all comes down to common sense. Everyone has eyes and ears and should be on the lookout constantly for situations that can improve the safety of themselves and their workmates.
People should always question unsafe acts and praise and encourage and share best practice. A company policy of “Don’t Walk By” should become a natural part accepted by all.
Suggestions and criticisms of the organisational policies should be encouraged, and responded to positively. Policies like “We want you to tell us” and “We want you to be proactive” make us all safer.
These behaviours should start from recruitment until an employee leaves the organisation. They do work.
5 Fire procedures
All businesses should have them. Unfortunately, many small businesses do not, or have inadequate fire evacuation procedures, including trained fire marshals. But they are vitally important.
Towards the end of August, a five storey store full of staff and shoppers in Belfast caught fire. The building was destroyed, yet there was not a single injury. Why? Because Primark had excellent fire evacuation procedures in place and had evacuated the entire building in just a few minutes. Could you do that in your premises?
How many times has a fire alarm gone off and you have stood staring at each other for several moments thinking “is it real? Do we have to leave?”. Unless it is a brief test at a preannounced time, then yes – leave. Wasting time wastes lives. It is vital that all your staff know where all the exits are, where to meet, what to do. Tell them frequently. And test it at least once a year – more frequently if high risk.
When employees get it wrong it is usually because of poor management practices or lack of communication, so educate your workforce.
4 Training and development
Training and the development of a worker is essential for both business prosperity and to allow that worker to grow and develop in their role and career. Health and safety training should be a major part of this.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations state that regular relevant health and safety training should be provided for all employees. It also says that this training must be taken in work time and not in the employee’s own time.
Training could be general, covering all aspects of the role. It could include shadowing someone on the job. It could be on a specific piece of equipment or issue, such as abrasive wheels or asbestos awareness. It could be as simple as the correct set up of a workstation. Or it could be role specific such as first aid or fire marshals. It could be a legal requirement, for example manual handling training.
Whatever it is, there needs to be a training needs analysis based on risk assessment for the workforce. Training need not be expensive. Much can be done in house, via e-learning courses, or even face to face training. Training needs is an investment and not unnecessary time away from doing the job. Training saves lives.
3 Employee wellbeing
Employee wellbeing is a key issue that companies are striving to address to ensure that their employees remain happy and motivated at work. A happy workforce is not only a productive workforce, but a safe workforce.
Being happy and motivated means people will be generally more alert to the hazards around them. There are many wellbeing initiatives around, so if you aren’t doing anything related to employee wellbeing, speak to the experts about what they can do for your business.
2 Employee mental health
Over recent years, partly due to Princes William and Harry raising its profile, the stigma of mental health in the workplace has become less and less, but the problems it causes are becoming bigger and bigger.
Men in the construction sector, for example are now six times more likely to die from suicide than they are from falling from height.
The Mental Health Foundation reported earlier this year that 1 in 6.8 workers in the UK reported mental health issues at work.
Employers need to have stress at work risk assessments, following the HSE Standards on their website. Wellbeing initiatives should be encouraged. Make sure resources are available for employees to carry out tasks safely and in enough time.
If you are feeling anxious, depressed, suicidal, speak to someone you can trust. If you don’t think you can trust anyone then call The Samaritans on 116123 and talk in confidence without being judged at any time day or night.
1 Everyone’s responsibility
Employers and employees have equal responsibility for the health and safety of themselves and those affected by what they do or don’t do.
Employers and employees need to work together to improve the safety culture in the workplace.
Pressures from else where – the economy, finances, workload usually take priority. Around 40% of businesses with less than 50 employees have never done anything relating to health and safety management – yet about 80% of all reported accidents are in businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Many only do anything after the accident. By then it is too late.
So please be ProActive and not ReActive with your health and safety management.