Think New Year 2014 – think new start for safety

Think New Year 2014 – think new start for safety


It’s 2014, and if you’re like me, 2013 was like walking down the hallway – no sooner had I set off from the Kitchen of Good Intentions, than I had arrived in the Bedroom of Christmas. Where did it all go?

During the year, I saw all sorts of people. Usually, if I wasn’t  helping them develop their safety management systems in some way, I might be auditing them. They all had reasons for doing safety. Sometimes, it was a corporate imperative driven by invisible overseas boards of directors. Sometimes, it was to get the ACC audit approval. Sometimes, it was because “OSH” had visited. (Will “WorkSafe” catch on?) Sometimes they actually knew it was good business. They all tended to have a few things in common: They were usually under-resourced to do it. The systems they were required to follow were too complicated. Generally, they were struggling in a largely delegated and unsupported environment. In my experience, that invariably leads to a lot of puffing and blowing and eventually, failure.

Got me thinking: What are the simple things any employer can do to start anew and get safety right? Come to that, what are the things that really mess it up? There is so much tosh spoken in health and safety circles. You don’t, for example, need to be “passionate”. In my opinion, that’s silly. You need to be clear headed and determined. You don’t need to be an expert. You need to have an interest in learning. You don’t have to do complicated things well. You have to do simple things well.

Let’s look at a list of difficult areas. It’s not hard to get it right; in fact, it’s so often doing too much that causes the difficulty. By simplifying it, you can make your life a lot easier.

1. Think about how you utilise external consultants

think_about_how_you_utilise_external_consultantsWhat am I saying? This is my livelihood here! Let me explain. I have learned that the best value an external consultant can bring you is in understanding you and your business. If they have a stock package to sell, and they want to run your health and safety for you, that’s fine as long as it’s what you want. (Some employers just want someone to “start doing compliance”).

But if you actually want your workplace to become safer, and you believe safety is an indicator of the quality of your workplace, you have to start doing the day to day stuff yourself. Safety is about behaviour. The choices you, your employees and managers make every day. External consultants can’t do that for them. They have to do it themselves. If you pay consultants, at least get the best value by using them for what they ought to be good at – interpreting what you need, providing you with professional advice about systems and difficult issues. And they should be able to make it all simple for you. If they start getting too involved in pet projects, or they start to own the agenda, refocus them or get someone else. Personally, I really love clients who know what they want and keep a focus on it.

Summary: Get best value from any external consultants by doing the day to day work yourself and start using them only for their valuable experience. If they don’t have it, or they want to own you, get someone else.


2. Over complication

think_about_over_complicationManuals 4 inches thick. Software that looks pretty but does little. Fancy  methods that busy line managers just don’t want to know nor use. Systems don’t create safety, people do. Start to cut down the procedures and forms. A procedure should be less than one page and maybe a flow chart. “When this happens, do this”. Cut out any words that don’t actually add value. Why would a line manager want to wade through 10 pages when a flow chart will do?

Forms? You only need 6 or 7 forms to start with: Accident Report/Investigation, Hazard Register, Training Record, Safety Meeting Minutes, Emergency Drill Record, Induction Record for employees/contractors. Add any others only if you really need them, like Work Permits if you have high risks, Rehabilitation Plans…heck, I can’t really think of too many more. If you want to use tools like risk scoring, make sure people understand them and that they have some context other than looking nice.

Summary: Safety is not just about systems, it’s about what people do, so start simplifying and pruning your forms and procedures and get people out from behind their desks.


3. Paper passing

think_about_paper_passingOne of the biggest myths in health and safety is that you have to get a piece of paper for everything. Take this fascination with asking for a copy of your contractors’ safety plans. No one knows what it means or what it achieves. It seems to be at least 10 pages of various forms and declarations. Other things too, like creating a risk matrix, huge inspection checklists, fancy charts that actually mean nothing and tell you even less. Even visitor sign in books can be pointless.

If you think about it. Can a piece of paper be useful for verification? Can it demonstrate (in a court of law potentially), that you have done something materially to affect the safety of people? Does it communicate useful safety information? If none of these, it’s a waste of time.

Take contractor safety plans. Most people who ask for these things have no idea what they are. When the contractor (who might be an occasional visitor in his delivery truck), rings to ask what is actually required, people growl at him. They send him reams of inapplicable templates. He signs it all, borrows his mate’s Safety Manual, copies it and sends the lot back to you. You tuck it into a filing cabinet for 2 years. Bet you never read it. Meanwhile, nothing changes and if he walks under a fork lift on the way to your toilet one day, you are as liable as if you had done nothing.

Useful bits of paper might have been site specific safety rules, (which should have included precautions around fork lifts), and a one page general safety agreement. If necessary, a job specific hazard identification with agreed (signed off) hazard control measures. (E.g. for a contractor changing fluorescent tubes “Tape off working area and ensure trained operator for scissor lift”). Sure, you must do more for highly hazardous situations, but the point here is if you use paper, make sure it achieves something specific. Otherwise you are wasting your life away. And WorkSafe will laugh and throw the book at you when something bad happens.

By the way, handwritten notes are, if anything, more real and credible than forms. So for things like recording meetings, discussions and agreed precautions, they are perfect.

Summary: Make paper meaningful and specific. Start asking yourself “What actual safety result is this going to achieve?” Cut out generic forms if they are “OTT” for the actual risk.


4. Poor employee consultation

I have sat in Focus Groups with employees during an audit and heard a room full of enthusiastic, intelligent, motivated people say “We go to safety meetings and get talked at”. Or “They don’t listen to us”. What a waste. To me, employee consultation isn’t about the minutes or the smart agendas or even achieving tangible changes like machine guarding. It’s about engagement. It’s about employees AND managers realising that safety is largely about choices and behaviour and joint ownership of responsibility.

think_about_employee_consultationI actually don’t mind sitting through a safety meeting where nothing of any material substance was achieved, but in which managers and employees engaged in an open discussion about why some people (say) don’t wear ear muffs. Better by far than a meeting in which doleful faces sit and listen to some control freak pontificating. But you also have to make sure that simple things are done. If employees say the earmuffs are hot and sticky, you may not feel discussions are heading in the direction you want, but you have to hear that. Start addressing these things. If it doesn’t work, you still achieved a big result: Credibility, trust and a group of people who have now become part of the solution, whatever it may be. Behaviour change. You can’t achieve it in too many other ways.

Summary: Start getting employees engaged. Move them from being part of the problem to being part of the solution.


5. Leadership

If your leaders are not leading, you might as well fold up your safety manual and find another job. I mean that. Without someone who has a clear vision and who is actively demanding, encouraging and inspiring middle managers, you are kidding yourself. Leadership means setting and supporting expectations, actively monitoring, resourcing, intervening when appropriate and leading by example. If your leaders don’t do this, start to encourage them. What outcomes do they expect? What roles and responsibilities are allocated? What OHS related KPIs exist? What objectives are in the annual safety plan? (There won’t be an annual safety plan if you’re asking these questions, but it’s a good one to get them shuffling in their seats).

Under the new Act due in 2015, “Officers” of a Business Undertaking will have very direct duties to understand their business, know the risks, monitor, resource and drive compliance. An officer doesn’t have to be a Director. They can be any person who substantially influences and controls the business. What monitoring and measurements will be used to determine if the system is functioning? What standard is to be achieved and what form of annual audit will there be? (Another seat shuffler). Show them this article on the Health and Safety Bill that we wrote. Refer them to these excellent Guidelines, produced jointly by MoBIE and the Director’s Institute.

Summary: Make sure leaders have created an environment for OHS to grow in and be satisfied that they will be there when the going gets tough.


6. Your OHS Coordinator

This essential role is generally an administrative one. Just as an external consultant can’t pull puppet strings, so an administrator can’t “make a place safe”. The old concept of a safety officer in a white coat and clipboard has long gone, except in some high risk industries. It doesn’t work too well anyway. In my view, your leaders should have set the scene and got the attention of their management team. The OHS Coordinator should be the person to whom those managers go to help them achieve what they already know they have to do. It’s the old story: “What interests my boss fascinates me”. I don’t even believe the OHS Coordinator should have to do much “selling”. To me, “selling” implies that leadership is not doing its job. The “selling” should be limited to proposing the most appropriate means for those managers to achieve an agreed result, NOT why they need to achieve it.

think_about_leadership_collaborationThe OHS Coordinator should primarily be a strong administrator. They should be able to relate to all levels of personnel in a balanced, even manner. They should be persistent without being pedantic. They should maintain the respect of managers and employees alike by being fair, firm but without favour. In my view, for many situations, they don’t need to be a safety expert, but some system related training is essential. It should include an understanding of relevant safety legislation, exposure to safety management systems, such as 4801 or WSMP, perhaps also some auditing skills. A lot of this can be done by self study – it’s how most safety practitioners learn their profession. (They could, for example, be tasked to go out and identify, then summarise all the Regulations, Codes and Standards that apply to your business). It’s a powerful way to start learning and you don’t have to pay some talking head to give them death by Powerpoint.

Summary: Start up some strong safety parameters and plans, appoint a solid administrator and ensure they understand what health and safety management means.


I’m sure there could have been more to write about, but in the spirit of the article, I’ll keep it simple: Six key areas that in the next month or two, you can de-clutter, strip down to the effective essentials and streamline your processes. If you are hesitating to let go of detail, or you are struggling on your own, start asking yourself “Is it working at the moment?” If the answer is no, chances are that doing a few simple things well, and having the support of one or two key influencers could make the difference.

Best wishes for a productive and simpler 2014.

SafetyPro has expertise assisting employers with simple safety systems, training and audits.
Call Simon on (09) 535 4355 or 0800 000 267.

Leave a Comment

We would be glad to get your feedback. Take a moment to comment and tell us what you think.