Managing health and safety effectively

13 April 2015

How do you manage health and safety? Is it down to one person, a group of senior managers or are workers also given the chance to participate?

This blog looks at a study by the Health and Safety Laboratory on worker involvement in health and safety, the benefits your company will see from involving workers as well as useful tips and resources to help you.

Study on worker involvement

A study by the Health and Safety Laboratory (the research arm of the Health and Safety Executive) has shown that it’s essential that senior managers spend time on site talking to and involving employees so health and safety is managed effectively.

The study looked at employee involvement in the quarry industry, identifying barriers to involvement and considered areas for improvement. The Health and Safety Laboratory said that although their study was taken from one industry, the findings could be used as good practice guidance for employee involvement across all sectors.

Key points:
- Senior managers were committed to health and safety, but in practise it was difficult to persuade them to spend more time engaging with employees.

- Employees felt that it was difficult for them to challenge or raise concerns with senior managers (this was more prevalent amongst larger companies). A reason for this could be that senior management in larger companies tend to spend less time with employees.

- There is a need for managers to improve the way they justify decisions to employees – for example, employees raised concerns that senior management still put a price on safety, don’t always listen and can be inconsistent in their messages or actions.

- Health and safety messages need to be proportionate. Employees said they were often given too much information at once.

- The study showed that reward schemes varied in effectiveness, with schemes based on team performance having negative effects where one person’s performance could stop the rest of the team being rewarded.

- Safety representatives play an important role, but their role may become less important in the future if employees confidence in raising health and safety issues grows.

- The research team noted their concerns around poor communication of union training courses and adversity in allowing non-union members to attend union-led health and safety meetings in the larger quarries studied.

Benefits of involving workers in health and safety

  • Remember the old adage ‘Two heads are better than one’? Managers don’t have the solutions to all health and safety issues. Workers and safety representatives have a wealth of experience and detailed knowledge about how jobs work in practice and may come up with different issues and solutions that managers hadn’t thought of. They’re therefore ideally placed to help identify the real problems and work together to develop realistic and effective ways of protecting workers.
  • Workers who are given the opportunity to get involved at the planning stage, offering suggestions and helping to shape safe systems of work are more likely to comply with the end result.
  • Communication will be improved between managers and workers and employees will generally feel more motivated because they’ve been included in the process and their views listened to.

Tips and resources to help you

  • To see the full benefits of participation workers must be given access to all relevant information, have sufficient time for discussion and consultation, be given the opportunity to resolve any conflicts and gain consensus before any proposals are implemented.
  • Using both formal and informal ways to involve workers can work well and could include for example, involvement in the risk assessment process, attending working groups, training, feedback and continued communication between managers and workers.

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