Many people believe that health and safety is packed with paperwork, chock full of checklists, and rampant with rules. This element, known as ‘compliance safety’, does exist and has an important role to play.
But we believe that paperwork breeds more paperwork and that form filling doesn’t fulfil the number one objective of all health and safety activity – keeping people safe.
At Veritas Consulting, we focus less on desk-based health and safety and more on how people actually behave in the workplace. One such way that we can practise rather than discuss good health and safety is ‘health and safety leadership’ – visibly showing our clients how to protect themselves, and others at work.
What is Health and Safety Leadership?
Health and safety leadership prioritises the physical and mental health and safety of all employees, customers and visitors above all other workplace issues, making it the foundation from which the business is built.
Health and safety leadership is ‘behaviour based leadership’ meaning that staff are presented with a clear message through the actions of those in leadership positions (in this case, that good health and safety is an integral part of working life that must be taken seriously and put into practice, as a matter of course, by all employees.)
Excellent health and safety leadership can have a hugely positive impact on the safe behaviour of staff; increasing awareness, motivating employees to reach and maintain high standards, and significantly reducing incidents.
What Makes a Good Health and Safety Leader?
While some companies allocate or employ specific health and safety leaders, all company directors and top-level staff can and should practice good leadership in this area in order to set a precedent for all staff.
So what makes a good health and safety leader, and how can you set your people up for success, anticipate their needs, sell the benefits of good health and safety and, above all else, show them that you’re invested in protecting them from harm?
Taking Responsibility for Health and Safety Issues
A good health and safety leader takes responsibility for both their own safety in the workplace and the safety of those around them.
This doesn’t just mean talking the talk while pushing papers around a desk, but walking the walk in everyday working life – easier said than done, as nobody wants to be seen as a nit-picking nightmare, obsessed with red tape and constantly holding things up.
A good health and safety leader can rise above this stereotype by both intervening confidently when they see potentially risky conditions or unsafe behaviour and educating and encouraging others and when and how to do the same, breeding a culture where it’s perceived as ‘normal’ to speak up in these instances, without being judged.
A great leader will also always stick around to help resolve safety issues once they’ve been identified, rather than calling them but doing nothing to fix them.
Advocating for good health and safety practices
Good health and safety leaders keep health and safety issues at the top of the agenda by advocating for good practice wherever possible – this means speaking up when they witness things that could be done better and speaking out in celebration when things are done well.
If health and safety leaders are budgetary decision-makers, they must also ensure that an adequate amount is set aside to fund good practice. If they don’t hold the purse strings, however, they should apply pressure to those with spending capability in order to ensure that health and safety is given a prominent place in the annual budget.
It’s also vital that adequate time is allocated to discuss health and safety in organisation-wide and team meetings, with staff at all levels so that the message filters through:
‘We take safety seriously, and we do this through actions, not words.’
Motivating, energising and inspiring others
It takes a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm to motivate others in the workplace when it comes to health and safety.
As strange as it may seem, taking care of our own safety and that of our colleagues and customers doesn’t always come naturally. It often takes an incident in the workplace, usually trivial but sadly sometimes serious, to shake up a company and force them to pay attention to what could go wrong.
Many people lack the time and energy needed to make health and safety a priority and, while we’re aware that there are policies and procedures in place, these feel irrelevant to us in real-life. It’s also a common perception that health and safety is mind-numbingly dull, giving us little reason to look up from our roles and take an active interest.
A good health and safety leader will breathe life into safety issues, helping colleagues to see that they’re relevant and personal. To do this, they won’t focus on what could go wrong, but will instead turn their energy and enthusiasm to the many benefits of being in a workplace that puts health and safety at the forefront, including:
- Compliance with UK law putting your company at less risk from being prosecuted or even closed down – making jobs more secure
- Insurance premiums are lower, so there’s more money to go round
- Visitors and customers feeling calm and reassured when entering the workplace, providing a good experience and increasing the chances of repeat business
- Workplaces remaining more efficient and productive
And, most importantly, knowing that you’re likely to return home safe and well at the end of a day’s work, rather than ending up in A&E, out of action (and unable to earn) for a long period, or even worse.
Commitment and consistency
A good health and safety leader sets an example in the workplace – not by preaching their perfection to the rest of the team but by remaining committed to best practices and by showing consistency in prioritising their own safety and that of their colleagues.
Health and safety leadership isn’t just something to bung on your CV. For some, it’s a genuine passion and calling. For others, like company directors and managers, it’s a key responsibility that comes with owning and running a business.
Avoiding accidents and incidents in the workplace requires sustained time and effort along with adequate resources. It’s also important to get the right support from experienced health and safety experts like Veritas Consulting that can help you build good practise and advocacy into your work life – rather than tacking it on as an afterthought.
Striding around a construction site with a clipboard, barking orders does not make anyone a good Health and Safety Leader.
In order to involve other staff in the cause, a great leader will identify and spell-out clear objectives for health and safety that can be met within specific timeframes, so that staff remain focused, engaged and motivated.
A general ‘you could all do better’’ attitude, without clear directions, will only breed resentment and ultimately achieve very little. A good leader will create a comprehensive plan and ensure that this is implemented in a methodical manner.
They will also make sure that staff have the resources they need, whether this is safety equipment and protective clothing or training that explains how this should be used.
Last but not least, a good health and safety leader celebrates a company’s track record and counts each day without an incident as a huge success for which every member of staff must be applauded.
If great health and safety isn’t regarded as a positive thing, why on earth would staff be interested in participating? Offering positive benefits to good practices is an integral part of ensuring a health and safety strategy is successful and a good leader will cheer on the achievements of their staff – be they large or small.
Great health and safety don’t happen naturally, it takes time, effort and commitment to stay incident-free.
The single most important thing that a company can do to protect their employees, visitors and staff, rather than compile impressive checklists and put up hundreds of posters is to lead by example, visibly following their own policies and procedures with commitment and enthusiasm.
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