As times change, we become more aware of the intrinsic value and role that Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) plays in our daily lives and the workplace. This begs the question are health and safety professionals irrational in their approach to safety or are we intrinsically committed to safety? Top management tends to place a heavy focus on establishing rules and regulations in companies to protect the company from liability, however, how much of this emphasis and dedication is directed towards ensuring the employees, contractors and visitors return home safely and that we as the employers honour our responsibility in accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
In saying this, many companies implement safety rules and regulations for all the wrong reasons with an expectation that employees need to adhere and comply to these rules, to boast positive performance statistics at management meetings or to display for the public at large. Safety culture is lead from the top and filters its way down. An employee’s attitude and adaptation of a positive safety culture mimic that of his superiors.
The first order of achieving a committed approach to safety is to appoint a qualified and experienced individual to lead a company’s safety implementation. Far too often, companies send employees for safety courses and expect them to fulfil the role of a health and safety professional, however being fresh out a theoretical course, it is difficult to put into practice the components of a 2/3-week course. In many occasions, a newly trained employee does not know how to establish the foundation of a safety system and the components that come together to build a system. Under qualified professionals pose a risk to a company as they do not have the experience to deal with complex incident investigations or preparation pf procedures and policies aligned with a company’s operations and OHS requirements. Like any other profession or skills programme, underqualified health and safety professions require practical training, experience and qualifications. Shadowing a Health and Safety consultant is but one example of how an individual can achieve this.
A company needs to establish a meaningful safety system with buy-in from management and employees alike. This can be achieved using a strategic approach in the content shared with employees and the manner in which training is being conducted. Many times, employees are bombarded with an overload of information and rather than use it in their respective jobs, they merely sit through a training session to tick a box. Information being shared with employees needs to be relevant to their safety in the workplace and easily understood. A lot of the time, information is being shared with or employees are being trained on material based on legislative and academic language however a large number of employees do not understand this.
The key to engaging and fruitful training/ awareness sessions is establishing the objective of the topic being discussed. Companies need to establish an open dialogue between employees e.g. open up a training session or a toolbox talk to a safety discussion as opposed to a one-way movement of information. Encouraging dialogue and discussion actively involves employees in the topic being discussed and this helps to identify relevant challenges and/or concerns employees may have as they are hands-on in operations. Engagement sessions with employees bring a new, dynamic and interactive platform for them to be intrinsically involved in the development of a positive safety culture and change in behaviour in a workplace and add value to a company’s safety development rather than prevent a recurring incident.
Engagement with employees can provide an array of positives changes in a company, as a member of Top management conducts a site walk of his workplace, evidence that employees are adapting and embracing a positive safety culture from a change in behaviour to safety awareness is demonstrated. However, it may also demonstrate how little safety-related information presented in the inductions and internal training sessions is used onsite. Visible felt leadership also shows an employer’s commitment to safety as genuine, caring and respectful. It helps highlight safety issues and concerns for an employer and is an indication of how effective a company’s safety system really is. Visual Felt Leadership is a key indicator to determine if a company has applied an irrational approach to safety or a genuine commitment to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of employees, contractors and visitors. Upskilling of employees in safety-related training is another important measurement in engagement sessions as Top management can identify employees who have a keen interest in safety-related matters and provide the necessary tools and training of such employees.
An irrational approach to safety further encourages employees to flout the rules and regulations set out by a company as they will only comply when the safety team or Top management is present, giving the sense that rules are only complied with when being observed. Thus it is important that safety training, rules and proper use of equipment etc. are being actively communicated as opposed to a textbook and tick box exercise, this, in turn, starts to change the safety culture and dynamic within a company and encourages a committed approach to working in a safe manner.
In order for a company to achieve a safe working environment, a holistic approach including, safety equipment, policies, procedures, upskilling of employees and an overall attitude adjustment from all members of the company is required. Safety is not the responsibility of the employees nor is it solely the responsibility of the employer. Collectively both parties come together to develop and implement a working system that they are committed to continuously improving as the dynamic Occupational health and Safety environment changes. Positive change can only be seen when a practical and sensible approach to safety is adopted and reasonable expectations and objectives are set. The correctly qualified and experienced safety personnel will help the company shift towards an “understanding through learning” dynamic and this is the ultimate the switch from an irrational to intrinsically committed approach to getting everyone home safely at the end of the day.
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