29 Oct Safety is too important to be wrapped up in regulation
“There is too much health and safety regulation”!
Have I gone completely mad? Am I jumping on the populist band-wagon of some short-sighted half-wits who endlessly whinge about “the restrictive monster that is strangling UK business and hampering growth”? (The Guardian, Thursday 5 January 2012).
I hope not, but I stand by the statement above. Except that what I really mean to say is that there is, sadly, too much reliance on regulation. The legal requirements should be the last consideration when it comes to preventing injury and ill-health in the workplace.
Anyone with true insight into best practice will recognise that protecting your most valuable asset makes excellent business sense. We invest a great deal into this resource by selecting and training them and they continue to gain irreplaceable experience the longer we keep them and look after them.
These days, even more than ever before, the reputation of an organisation is central to winning and maintaining the trust of the best customers and employees alike. Providing a safe workplace can be expensive, but only a fraction of the cost of having accidents.
Furthermore there’s a moral dimension – surely it just isn’t right to hurt someone. There are very few jobs important enough to justify the death or injury of one of your workforce. Is your line of business really that important?
When there’s too much focus on legislation it can be difficult to see beyond the procedures and rules. Employers pass on the legal requirements to their employees. If the company ends up in trouble with the regulator then they’ll often be quick to take disciplinary action against the perpetrator – usually someone last in line, who was just doing what they were told or what they thought their manager expected of them.
This is the path to blame and retribution, which inevitably results in keeping your head down, staying quiet and a lack of engagement. This is a long way from the Just Culture that World Class organisations implement.
The alternative is to focus on people, their attitudes, values, beliefs and resulting from these – their behaviours. Nobody wants to get injured or see anyone else injured so provide them with the right environment, tools, knowledge, support and motivation and your people will work safely (and correctly).
Rules will always be needed for those employees who don’t possess the right attitudes and values, but then why would you continue to employ these people? Similarly the legislation will sadly always be required for those employers and their political friends who value their own short-term gain over the safety, health and well-being of those who are grafting on their behalf.
These are the real “restrictive monsters” that need “slaying”!