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Thought Leadership - Health & Safety in the Workplace

Updated: Dec 21, 2021

Everyone is responsible for safety in the workplace – here’s how to get your whole team invested

The return of many to the workplace after disruption caused by Covid-19 has us thinking more than ever about what it means to be safe at work. SHEQ Consultant Stuart McIntosh guides us through shaking off complacency, shifting perceptions and working as a team for the security of everyone.

In the workplace, we all have our roles to play: the areas that fall under our charge, the duties that lie with us to fulfil. Something is either our responsibility to sort out, or it’s not.

It can be all too easy to think of health and safety in this light: a box-ticking exercise that must be completed by your employer, with whom the legal responsibility ultimately lies.

But health and safety is too important to think about in that way. It should not be seen as an isolated task, but as a frame of mind that underpins everything that happens onsite. For this reason, the onus to uphold it falls equally on everyone.

In my work as a Health and Safety Consultant, I regularly visit workplaces and help clients make their sites safer, calmer and more productive.

Today I’m going to outline why these ways of thinking could be holding your organisation back, and how we can change attitudes to empower people to do their part in making work a safe place to be for everyone.

Give younger people the benefit of your experience – just don’t patronise them!

It’s important to remember that people’s outlooks on and experiences of the workplace are very diverse – this has many benefits, but can sometimes cause friction too.

One example that can impact safety is younger employees’ perspective on unnecessary risk. Not many people disregard safety entirely – it’s more that young people don’t always have the same perception of danger as those with a little more experience.

Younger employees may overstretch themselves, thinking they’re capable of slightly more than they are. This often stems from good intentions – they don’t want to let anybody down.

Older people have been in the workplace long enough to see what happens when something goes wrong. Never take on more than you can handle, and don’t be so eager to please that you go past the bounds of your ability and put yourself – or somebody else – in danger.

Equally, be wary of talking down to younger employees just because they have less experience (and sometimes less common sense!) than you do. You won’t get people to feel invested in workplace safety if you talk down to them ­– you need to speak to people respectfully, as equals who can benefit the team.

Calmly explain both the dangers of what they’re doing and the tangible benefits of becoming more safety-aware – both to themselves and for everyone around them.

Don’t let complacency set in

No matter how vigilant you are at first, complacency can creep in. There’s always something that feels more important, or a more urgent demand on your time waiting to be dealt with. You might feel you already know all there is to know about safety, or assume that everybody must be as clued-up as you are. It’s common sense, isn’t it?

But good leadership – and excellent teamwork – depends on not making assumptions which could cost you.

Setting a standard is not the same as maintaining one: regulations, guidance and instructions being laid out doesn’t mean that all your employees understand them, or that they’re all still following safety regulations consistently years after they were last emphasised.

Try implementing a regular safety review, so you can ensure all your practices are clear and up to date. Consider hiring an independent safety expert, like our consultants at SHEQ Aspen Thorn, to check everything is in order and help communicate the importance of safety measures to your staff.

Deal with unwillingness to change

99% of the time when you tell someone that they’re not doing something safely, they know that already.

Unsafe practices at work can often be down to external pressures as much as lack of knowledge. But it isn’t worth endangering yourself even momentarily to cut a corner, and in the long run you’ll lose more time and more money if someone is injured. Not to mention how you’d feel if someone seriously hurt themselves because you asked them to hurry up.

Let everyone know that endangering your people for the sake of a quick fix is not a price anybody should be willing to pay.

No matter how long they’ve been working, anyone can change for the better. If cutting corners was something you previously turned a blind eye to, you need to make it clear that this is not the right approach – no ifs or buts.

To put a more positive spin on it, you could start rewarding those that demonstrate positive safety practices and recognise someone who’s shown leadership or improvement in safety.

Everybody is responsible for health and safety in the workplace. You’ve got to take responsibility for yourself and anyone around you who might be impacted by what you do – and just as importantly, what you don’t do.

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