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Why Health and Safety need not be Dull or Boring

For many people, if they hear the words "health and safety" , they think "dull and boring".

Traditionally, that has probably been true, but it needn't be. The health and safety profession is one that I, like many others, fell into by accident.

In my case, as a result of an accident in one of my first jobs (I was almost strangled by accidentally shredding my tie, but that's another story). For those that know me, they will know I find health and safety fun, engaging and powerful. I am very enthusiastic about it. In fact just this week, I received a testimonial that said just that: "Kevin is passionate and knowledgable". And that's what it should be for everyone.

Most people, including small business owners and their employees, think that health and safety is all about saying "No! You can't do that, it's dangerous". In fact, do it correctly and safely, and most things probably can be done.

To them it's all about bureaucratic paperwork that is a necessary evil that they could do without. Health and safety professionals have, for many years, had the reputation of being clip-board yielding suit wearing bureaucrats who just want to give business a hard time.

Maybe, previously, we have been. Maybe some in the profession still are, but things have changed a lot over the past 20 years or so.

Health and safety need not be Dull or Boring. It can, instead, be used to drive improvements, cost savings, better cultures, and more productive ways of working. Health and safety management can, in fact be fun.

The big reason often cited for introducing health and safety management measures is often compliance. Compliance with the law, compliance with standards, compliance with procedures. But compliance is not the most important focus. Compliance is the end result. To get compliance, where the entire workforce are engaged and on side is not as simple as enforcement of rules or ticking a box. Health and safety is all about using innovation, using communication, engagement, interactivity and involvement. It is all about changing the culture of an organisation.

Health and safety should become a part of everything a business does, by everyone who does it. It should mean that good safety practices means good business practices.

Everyone in that business should be involved in implementing those practices. Everyone should know why health and safety is important (it is much more than 'because we have to'), and that cannot mean, just telling someone to do something because thats the way it has always been done. It involves communication between managers and employees, within and across teams, and in all directions. It should involve training, that is far more than death by Powerpoint. Training must be engaging, interactive, and relevant. It should also be a catalyst to change a behaviour.

A business's biggest resource is its employees. Yet most businesses do not fully utilise this resource to its full potential. Engage people in improving the systems and procedures they work on, and you are half way there. They do the job, they know the problems, they know the solutions. Utilise them, and the systems will generally become more productive and also generally safer, because you are making the employee feel more valued and engaged. Give a man a loaf, and they are fed for a day. Give then a field and seed and they are fed for life. Help your employees grow and they will help your business grow.

The more you involve people in their own safety, the more they take health and safety seriously, and the more safety issues will start to be designed out. This requires engagement from top to bottom. The more you design out the problems they have, the more you become compliant. And you will have become compliant without a clip board in sight. This doesn't mean the end of audits, risk assessment, method statements, policies and procedures. It means that those documents are more meaningful, more accurate, and not gathering dust on a shelf or hidden in some far flung corner of a data cloud.

Think outside the box, and let your employees think with you, and maybe, next time your friendly health and safety practitioner visits, they won't hear phrases like "quick, health and safety's here, hide that" (we know it happens!).

Instead you will have developed a culture that is friendlier, more open, more involved, more productive, and most importantly healthier, safer and more fun.

  • KSH Safety Services can help your business change its safety culture. It can also provide interactive