Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > on health and safety as a way of life

on health and safety as a way of life

Last week I was asked to cast an eye over a job specification for a facilities manager’s role. It was all fine stuff and typical of what you see in the modern world although, for me, too much couched in the management speak of corporate human resources. Ok, I know that they have a lot to comply with, as do all of us, but I come from a world where we were free of all of this stuff. I digress though, because my musing today is about one line in that job spec that required the successful candidate to be able to embed the organisation’s health and safety culture within their team and area of operations.

This struck a particular chord with me for I am in the process of trying to address that very problem for another client. Like everyone else these days they have forests of paper committed to posters, booklets, training material and goodness knows what else to say how seriously they take health and safety. There are files and files of signed sheets recording their employee’s attendance at training or briefing sessions or to say that they have read the latest bulletins.  They expend much effort as does every other organisation because they have to comply; they care too, but caring will not do a lot for you when you have an ambulance chasing law firm at your gates.

As to embedding, or whatever buzz word you are using this week, a culture of health and safety the biggest problem is that you employ fallible human beings and the level of problems their behaviour gives you presents the challenge. We humans have a tendency to, at various times on any given day, demonstrate selfishness, stupidity, arrogance, forgetfulness, distraction and inattentiveness amongst other traits. Getting us to give anything our full attention over the working day can be hard, let alone just H&S.

Taking care is not a modern invention even if many people regard it as one. I started work at the back end of the nineteen sixties and, yes, attitudes were different and we did some things that would have an H&S manager of today turn green, but there was a greater feeling of personal responsibility towards accident avoidance. Today there is a culture of everything being someone else’s fault; “I wasn’t trained”, “There was no warning sign” and so on, and this is a feature of modern life in general and it impacts on the battle to get people to take safety seriously, even in industries where the organisation has a solid grasp of the subject.

On one of my overseas trips working for an oil and gas exploration company I was scheduled to run a series of training courses, one of which was on facilities management. The material had been agreed in advance, but on my arrival the local manager told me to drop the module on health and safety as it was, in his words, a religion for them. I agreed with him that we would have a shorter session discussing best practice from an FM viewpoint and left him in the training room while I went off to the gents. When I came back he was sat with his laptop on his lap, feet on the table, chair tilted back onto two legs and with the power lead trailing at shin height across the gangway. He might not have blown up any gas platforms lately, but H&S as a religion? I don’t think so.

The way to do it is to lead from the front, to let your behaviour set the agenda and get the others to follow. Like anything worthwhile it is not easy and it takes time, but it will work if you make it a part of working life and not leave it as a stand alone subject.


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