Humanising health and safety conversations

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CEOs and directors should embed health and safety into their everyday conversations with workers to encourage people to always act safely at work, says Dr Shaun Davis from the UK’s Royal Mail Group in an interview with Safety Management.

Why should a company invest in managing risks to workers’ health and safety

First, work-related accidents, injuries and ill health are wrong from a moral point of view. Second, workplace accidents can have major consequences for a business in terms of the lost time and effort spent dealing with the aftermath of an accident, such as the use of management time, reduced productivity and the negative impact on organisational culture and morale.

Good health and safety management is also good business. If an organisation looks after the health, safety and welfare of its workers, they will be more productive, and this will help the business to be more successful and sustainable.

How can chief executives and directors motivate and inspire workers to always follow the health and safety rules at work

My five tips would be to ‘humanise, personalise, excite, contribute and challenge’ everyone at work about the importance of good health and safety.

So, to humanise the issue, the average worker needs to understand why health and safety is important, why the organisation wants to look after their health, safety and welfare and the role they can play in this.

So, instead of talking about things like accident frequency rates per 100,000 hours worked, which many people don’t understand, humanise it and talk about something like a specific person who was injured and was forced to take three weeks off work.

In my view, this is much more effective than quoting statistics because it really brings to life for workers the importance of always acting in a safe and healthy manner.

Workers also want to know how health and safety will impact them personally, so you should personalise the issue. For example, you could talk about someone from the same work area who was injured, saying something personal like “he was a person around the same age as you”.

Leaders also need to excite workers about the contribution they can make to the success of the business by acting in safe and healthy way at work. With everyone working in a safe environment, the company will be more effective and productive.

Finally, leaders should encourage workers to challenge issues around health and safety, asking questions such as “how can things be done differently?” and “why have we always done it like this?”

How can directors and senior leaders encourage workers to get involved in managing and improving health and safety at work

The first thing they should say to workers is “we’re all in this together, we all want people to be safe, healthy and happy at work.”

Directors need to make it clear that whether it’s the chief executive or a new recruit on the frontline, everyone’s got a part to play in keeping their colleagues healthy and safe. Reminding everyone at work about this is a really powerful way of pulling your organisation together on health and safety.

Directors should regularly remind all workers, through forums such as team meetings, that the health, safety and welfare of the company’s employees, contractors, suppliers and customers is critically important to the business.

Frontline workers, supervisors and managers are the people who really understand whether the health and safety management procedures are working or not, so directors need to create an open environment where workers feel they can voice their concerns, issues, challenges and
ideas around health and safety.

Shaun Davis is global director of safety, health, wellbeing and sustainability at the Royal Mail Group

Directors need to let employees know they are open to suggestions for improving health and safety, and workers should be given access to senior people to make those suggestions. Directors need to say: “If you want to raise something, then my door is always open” – and really mean it.

It is also important that directors take time to listen to managers, supervisors and workers and show them they are genuinely interested in what they have got to say about health and safety. They should also explain how they are going to act on and use the information. In my experience people will be very open and receptive to that.

If your organisation does unfortunately suffer a workplace accident, senior leaders need to come out and talk publicly to workers about it. They need to explain how the directors have been very actively involved in dealing with the incident and the steps the company is taking to prevent a reoccurrence.

Many organisations make the mistake of leaving the incident investigation and the job of preventing a reoccurrence to the health and safety team. But if you want workers to understand the importance of health and safety, then top level leadership is required following a health and safety incident.

How can directors role model the importance of health and safety in front of workers

Role modelling is really important. There are simple things you can do, such as always wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment. During my time in construction, I remember a very senior leader turning up to site, getting out of his car and walking across the site in his expensive leather shoes, and that undermined a lot of the work we had been doing on the importance of always wearing PPE when required. So it is as much about what you do as what you say.

What areas of health, safety and wellbeing at work should organisations be focusing on now and in the future

I’m chief independent adjudicator for the British Safety Council’s International Safety Awards, and see many applications from Indian businesses.

My general view from reading the entry submissions is the applicant businesses are successfully focusing on safety risks, but I would urge a greater focus on managing risks to workers’ health and wellbeing.

We tend to ‘shout safety, talk health and whisper wellbeing’, but it’s time to give parity to health and wellbeing because looking after the health of workers is a big part of ensuring the sustainability of your business.

Shaun Davis is global director of safety, health, wellbeing and sustainability at the UK’s Royal Mail Group and advisor to the magazine



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