Rules are under refinement all the time, evolving as new risks and technologies are discovered, and often creating discontent in many employees who find some HS&E activities tiresome or meaninglessly bureaucratic in nature.
However, with the right approach, these issues can be laid to rest and – better still – employees can prove proactive in not only following health & safety best practices to a T, but also introducing suggestions of their own to improve the corporate culture and overall well-being of your workforce and their teammates.
Whether you’re a veteran in the leadership game, or just moving into a position of authority or health & safety responsibility for the first time, here are a few refreshers for your skillset.
Being authoritative, but not antagonistic
Health and safety can have a funny reputation in both the blue collar and white collar world, where the quip of “health and safety gone mad” is shared among colleagues with as much humour as disdain. Experienced workers can find rules and regulations patronising, however necessary they are.
Communicating to your workforce that HS&E staff have the qualifications to back up their advice is one way of reinforcing knowledge, while avoiding patronising anyone. Upskilling is perhaps even more important in health and safety than in other roles, and ensuring that suitable training is instigated and shared is paramount to success.
Depending on your industry, things like NEBOSH training or IOSH certification for health and safety leaders are ideal upskill routes – with the aim being that this expertise is passed on to others through team training sessions, with qualified individuals acting as champions of workplace wellbeing.
In other words, rules are not so much dictated as simply shared, so that staff can formulate their own decisions on the job. By conveying the benefits to each individual of adhering to the best practices that are being explained, the emphasis is not on what they have to do because they’ve been told to, but what they would rather do to ensure their own wellbeing and that of their colleagues – knowing the risks that arise with not following procedure.
Show staff you’re not just ticking boxes
With health & safety, practicing what is preached is vital. Employees are smart, and can tell when a business is just going through the motions to avoid fines or stay within the rules for the sake of it. Likewise, employees can tell, and will appreciate, when health & safety practices are being implemented for their benefit, versus because it’s the “done thing”.
Demonstrating you’re committed to health & safety can be actioned in a number of ways. It can be as simple as updating your company or employee handbook regularly enough to keep up to date with HS&E best practices as they evolve.
Likewise, you can implement health & safety courses, drills and practices that are interactive, rather than sitting staff down in a room and talking at them at length. Interactivity enhances learning, and lets staff take these health & safety concerns forward more naturally.
Open the door to staff suggestions
Even the most well educated health & safety specialist is likely less hands on with a given working environment than members of staff themselves. That’s as true compared to the administrators and call handlers in a typical office as it is to labourers in infrastructural engineering, or on a factory floor.
Incident prevention can be brought to the fore all the more if your staff are encouraged to speak up about the risks they notice – an errant bunch of cables here, a new loose panel there – that are arising as they go about their daily work. Emphasise a collaborative and solutions driven approach, where it’s easy for team members to make suggestions and raise concerns as and when they feel the need.
When you’re thinking of new ways to foster a more health and safety-conscious culture in your workplace, keep the mental well-being of your workforce in mind too. While it might seem like endless buzzwords from time to time, the rising awareness of emotional and mental health in the workplace is as much as part of your health & safety policy as anything else, and should be afforded the same due diligence as physical healthcare.
Make apparent that your staff always have a confidant in you or your HR specialists, and consider measures like training a dedicated mental health first-aider, as well as those in more traditional roles. In the same way as you might seek feedback on physical risks, contact with teams should help to flag anything that could cause psychological harm, from excessive working hours to workplace bullying.
Remember that the conversation is ongoing
Health & safety is not a one-and-done issue, and as such, both staff and managers cannot expect to simply have a one day seminar or course and be done with it. Processes are under constant refinement, the emergence of new technologies brings new risks to analyse, and the advancement of medicine and psychological analysis alike mean that best practices are always evolving further.
As such, getting HS&E right ought to be seen as an ongoing dialogue between staff and management, rather than a periodical form to fill out or conversation to have.
By remaining open, bestowing a sense of ownership and responsibility onto your staff, and extending the understanding of health & safety beyond just another series of mindless tasks to fulfil, you can help to make a commitment to excellence second nature in your staff. You may well find that this seeds knowledge through your workforce organically, reducing your need for training time overall as staff naturally pass skills from one to the other.
Most importantly, emphasise to your employees at every level of the business that health & safety is to their advantage, and not merely for the sake of the business or its reputation. This will help you all pull in the same direction, and enhance that all-important feeling of respect and value in your workforce, which engenders loyalty.
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