by Ian Rummels
Health and safety is often seen as a separate function to human resources, with organisations employing a different person to handle each and creating separate departments around them. Yet there are some key crossover points between the two, such as absenteeism and sickness.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) stats show that over 200 people are killed each year in accidents at work and over one million people are injured. In addition, over two million suffer illnesses caused by, or made worse by their work. As we all try to reduce these figures, how many of you have in place a health and safety policy that you consider to be robust, comprehensive and effective? Hopefully the vast majority. However, how many of your employees could recite relevant passages from the policy? My guess is a minority.
Good health and safety policies can protect an organisation from the cost of lost time, litigation, fines, and the possible loss of reputation and client contracts. However, a policy on its own will not revolutionise your practices. In order to be effective, staff must be trained. This is where HR and health and safety managers must work together.
There is a legal duty for all companies to provide some level of information and training in order to protect the health and safety of employees. As far as is reasonably practical, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires you to provide whatever information, instruction, training and supervision is necessary to ensure the health and safety at work of employees. This was expanded by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations in 1999, which identified situations where health and safety training is particularly important, and there are a number of other regulations which include specific health and safety training requirements, e.g. asbestos, fire and first aid.
Further than simply demonstrating legal compliance, training can help businesses avoid the distress caused by accidents and ill health, and in turn the financial cost of lost time and demotivated staff.
It’s really important that training becomes less of a box-ticking exercise and manages instead to engage the staff involved. In industrial environments especially, there are often physical dangers that staff need to be aware of, so the training session needs to be memorable.
The key to success is finding ways to engage with staff to make the training interesting and help them achieve a change in culture rather than absorb a set of rules. The aim should be to enthuse employees so that they want to adopt new procedures. Ultimately, this will create a behavioural change in working practice, meaning that the success of the training can be clearly evaluated.
Health and safety concepts tend to be fairly generic across industries, but importantly, health and safety training needs to be relevant to specific jobs. If the job requires practical skills, sitting in a lecture theatre for a day is probably not going to stimulate the audience. One of the most effective tips is to actually take the audience into a scenario where they would face the risk. For example, if you’re telling people how to assess risks, take them into their workplace and show them the risks. If you’re teaching manual handling techniques, include practical exercises, or if you’re explaining how to react to fire, let the audience have a go with a fire extinguisher.
Through a combination of approaches and using the right method for the right audience, managers can really make sure that the messages hit home. Ultimately, with policies more consistently adhered to, we can really play a key role in reducing those injury and fatality statistics.