Engineer in confined space
13th November 2015

Since the creation of the HSE as part of the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974, fatal accident and injury events in the workplace have reduced steadily across every sector of business. Even the high risk industries such as construction sites, factories and mines are all much safer environments than they were.

This may be in part due to tougher legislation and regulation, but may also be in part due to an increase in regards to the ‘compensation culture’ that has contributed to the improvements in workplace safety.

While regulations regarding Health and Safety provision may seem like endless ‘red tape’, they have a very real purpose, and it’s important to remember that health and safety is not in place to prevent hard-working business owners and managers from making headway with their enterprise.

Whilst few of us could doubt that the UK is now far more safety-conscious than it has ever been, ELAS want to encourage businesses to continue to work towards a safe working environment for all and towards reducing accidents and to enable us to achieve this we need to identify and manage the underlying causes.

So how can we improve our safety systems and work to reduce incidents further?

As Health and Safety experts, we believe addressing attitudes to safety and health within the workplace and empowering employees to take a responsible attitude to their duties will go some way to making our places of work truly safe.

It’s important to consider that many accidents are caused by factors such as:

  • a lapse in attention
  • a genuine mistake, resulting from lack of training or competence
  • misunderstanding
  • deliberately cutting corners to rush the job
  • breaking the rules
  • poor maintenance
  • poor ‘housekeeping’
  • failure of systems or management

Many of the above factors could be dealt with by best-practice Health and Safety management, for example proper, regularly updated and monitored training, rigorous maintenance and systems checks, and a consistent management culture of ensuring that safety really is a priority.

Prevention really is better than cure, and stubborn high-risk behaviours need to change. Merely reacting to accidents or dangerous situations is not enough, there needs to be an element of trust so that workers act safely, and highlight to management when operating procedures are not fit for purpose, have become outdated or unsafe acts are performed. In turn, management need to act swiftly and positively on this information, thus creating a cycle of communication, co-operation and mutual respect. This is the basis of the process of continuous improvement that underpins what is known as the Behavioural Approach. The importance of Health and Safety ELAS Educator, August 2014

This approach essentially is about encouraging people to change their behaviour AND their attitudes. Staff may for example pay lip-service to safety rules, but retain the desire to cut corners – which they may well do if or when the system of supervision relaxes and they see an opportunity to slip back into more inappropriate methods.

So what can be done to change both attitudes AND behaviour?

This in the main stems from the top and managers must themselves be pro-active and committed to doing things the right way. The desired modes of behaviour must be seen as the norm in the workplace. If a new starter sees that all their workmates are following best practice methods, they are more likely to see that as the ‘way things are done here’ and fit in: it becomes habitual. It is only when workers commit to acting safely because it is the right thing to do will our places of work be truly safe.

Positive reinforcement can also be a useful tool here, for example congratulating staff for promoting best practice, or taking time and trouble to help a colleague to ‘get it right’. Setting goals and providing consistent, fair and (if possible) objective feedback to staff are also essential – as much for learning as for correcting errors.

Key to making this approach work and having a lasting impact is the need to engage with workers, it’s essential that they feel their views count, that their attitudes are being noticed, and that their behaviour truly matters to the company.

Ultimately safety is the responsibility of everyone – not something to be delegated to the Health and Safety team or hard-pressed supervisors. It is about making decisions every day to do things well, safely and consistently and as a united team.

Health and Safety best practice is the corner-stone of a well-run, progressive and inclusive place of work, aiming to consistently raise standards in ALL areas of its operations.

A full guide to evaluating your Health and Safety procedures and practices, with advice on how to implement Best Practice standards in your workplace can be supplied by leading 360-degree business support consultancies, such as The ELAS Group.

It might just prove to be the best investment you’ll make this year!


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