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Written by
on 29 January 2020


Too many rules spoil the company – so you need to cut out the safety clutter.

Cutting clutter in your health and safety practices can deliver real benefits to employee engagement, productivity and, surprisingly, health and safety itself. Let us discuss how.

Clutter is everywhere, it’s infiltrated our lives on so many levels; our inboxes are full of emails we’ll never read, we get countless daily offers from literally any online shop we’ve ever bought something from, social media news feeds are cluttered with updates and promoted posts from companies who think we might like them and even our work lives are now filled with clutter – health and safety clutter.

Most companies that have grown over the years or have had a number of incidents that should have been prevented by proper health and safety overeat to the changes, and introduce more processes than is necessary. The result: health and safety clutter.

It’s a very real thing that we’re seeing more and more as companies strive to minimise the risk of audits, investigations and, worst-case scenario, lawsuits. Part of the blame culture that seems to have ingrained itself in every element of life has resulted in over-management of health and safety – because as everyone knows “where there’s blame, there’s a claim”. But that doesn’t work in reality.

Overly stringent regulations don’t add value or reduce risk, quite the opposite. If employees feel overly burdened by health and safety practices that they aren’t fully engaged with or don’t see the point in, they are less likely to actually fulfil them and the reduction in engagement and empowerment will result in a significant drop in productivity, impacting the bottom line.

While we have to accept clutter in our inboxes and social media feeds because it comes hand in hand with the benefits and convenience that those aspects of our lives provide, it has no place in health and safety.

The Impacts

Too much red tape, or more accurately, red tape without significant or apparent benefits, drain time, money, resources and ultimately the enthusiasm of a workforce. When this happens, instead of creating a safe work environment that maximises employee welfare and efforts, it stifles productivity, innovation and engagement.

The process for this clutter is easy to see and in many ways its understandable how it happens. An accident in the workplace occurs and the causes are investigated. By determining the immediate cause, a rule or process can be implemented to make sure it doesn’t happen again, but that might not be the root cause of the incident.

The end result is increased health and safety regulations and policies without dealing with what caused the problem. Maybe the worker involved wasn’t fully trained or wasn’t concentrating. Adding more red tape to that situation isn’t going to stop it happening again; it’s going to add burden to the workforce, reduce engagement and possibly increase the chances of a repeat. Form filling and box-ticking is nouns idea of fun. If there’s no apparent benefit, a practice is more likely to ignored, rushed or otherwise impeded.

The negatives

Health and safety clutter can lead to:

  • a lack of personal accountability for health and safety
  • less flexibility and adaptability in the workplace
  • a lessening of trust inside a company
  • increased conflict between productivity and safety
  • a disconnect between management and the workforce
  • increased risk of damage to an otherwise positive health and safety culture

How to declutter safety

As with anything, clutter can be cleared with the right actions and the process of decluttering can have additional positive implications. There are three simple steps that can be taken to address health and safety clutter and really make a positive impact on the ongoing culture:

Step one

Have conversation; this is not going to be quick, and it relies on the ability to have honest conversations across the business. explain that the objective is to streamline health and safety and remove onerous red tape that doesn’t achieve anything.

It’s also important not to take any criticism received as gospel; some people will have gripes about some processes that are actually valuable so make sure you don’t erode the robustness of your valuable health and safety processes. By asking multiple employees the same questions, you will get a good picture of what works and what is unnecessary clutter.

An example question to ask, What is the most ridiculous thing you are asked to do in the name of safety?

Step two

You can relax rules that have the signs of being clutter without making changes permanent. Through a process of trial and (hopefully not) error, it should be relatively simple to separate the clutter from the value. Survey staff engagement, empowerment and morale to monitor changes and also keep an eye on productivity. That way, you can determine the real value of a process.

Step three

Create engagement with your health and safety team. If employees understand why something is done or why a process is being implemented or changed, then they are much more likely to be engaged with the results of their work. By treating colleagues as part of the team delivering health and safety rather than a workforce to be controlled by rules, everyone can work together for a common goal and ultimately everyone wins.

So start now: assess your health and safety practices to see if they are overly cluttered and then start the process to change the situation. Ask the difficult questions, listen to the answers and don’t be afraid to put the results into practice – even if it’s as a trial.

By showing that you are serious about streamlining health and safety and cutting the clutter, employees are much more likely to be on board with the process and will feel valued, empowered and engaged.

If the above sounds a good idea and will improve your health and safety performance, get in touch to see how we can help you cut out the safety clutter from your business.

A chartered (fellow) safety and risk management practitioner with 20+ years of experience. David provides a healthy dose of how-to articles, advice and guidance to make compliance easier for construction professionals, Architects and the built environment. Get social with David on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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