H&S is "strangling business": how best to respond?
columnist Mike Yardley wrote this
about e-scooters but rather spoiled it by including this lazy pot-shot about H&S:
"You would think that in this age, when we have health and safety regulations strangling virtually every other aspect of our daily lives, even the most basic regulatory safety framework should have been implemented here, before Lime was allowed to unleash hundreds of these gimmicky wheeled wonders on our streets."
This is a commonly held view: that businesses are being "strangled" by H&S "red tape".
Can Forum members come up with a short, pithy, printable response to this common assertion? One that we could trot out to demolish this unsubstantiated argument?
Difficult, because I can't honestly say that he's wrong. But I think it's more a case of misinformed people misinterpreting legal requirements and dodgy salespeople peddling fear of prosecution than it is H&S
doing the strangling.
Well thought out, well implemented, pragmatic H&S is genuinely beneficial to businesses.
Although, it is fair to say that a knee jerk response to a brand new issue prompting calls for regulation rather than a smart solution might be a part of the problem. Pot, kettle?
I don't think a pithy response is going to elicit much more than a, "yeah, right!" We just need to do it sensibly and do it well and the tide will turn - although a few links to the UKHSE myth busting page wouldn't go amiss.
Businesses are only 'strangled' by health and safety requirements when they don't understand them well enough to develop appropriate and effective safety management systems and processes. It all comes down to getting clarity about the purpose and intent and continually refining the processes - always asking if there is a better (more effective / efficient) way to achieve the desired objectives.
In addition, it helps a lot when businesses recognise that safe workplaces are actually a reasonably predictable outcome for organisations that operate according to complementary skills and tools of effective leadership practices and functional management. This includes clarity of purpose, shared values, meaningful consultation and communication, vision and foresight, planning, integrated processes, supervision and monitoring, measurement and reporting, and those responsible at the top keeping track of organisational performance proactively enough to provide responsive guidance and action when things start to veer off track.
We do it to ourselves - business is not a benevolent society and we must work to achieve business' goals, not to achieve our ulterior motives. And we cannot keep on hiding behind what others - the Regulator, a Standard, a 'pre-qual' organisation - say we need to do.
The heart of the 'problem' is that we define safety by its antithesis - what safety is not. Safety is NOT the "absence of injuries" ('go home uninjured at the end of each day'), safety is "ensuring that things go right". If we as professionals made this our motive, we will not be called 'stranglers'. We will be called 'contributors'.
My elevator-speech proposal: "
We will work harder to make sure we enable people to do things right and/or for things to go right, from every possible vantage point. We will use the full toolbox of methods, systems, and even tricks at our professional disposal to achieve this"[/
If we can find, develop, discover, fabricate, design, steal, beg or borrow a better way of enabling people to do things right, we will do so. Not because some new-age 'regulator' wants us to sign our names each time we hold a toolbox meeting, but by removing all things that gets in the way of people doing things right. Things like over-the-top rules, procedures, documentation, instructions, interferences. Furthermore, we will be searching for solutions to problems that gets in the way of doing it right, providing guidance, resources, organisational climate, resolving conflicting goals. We will be managing change so that the new is not distracting us/hindering us from doing things right. We will do our best to ensure that the organisation gets the opportunity to learn.
We can add to this list - as long as we keep our eye on the ball ... business is interested in getting things right. So should we be. Business should not understand/recognise better what we are doing, we must recognise what they want: doing things right!
And deliver that.
It doesn't help that most safety and compliance training typically consists mainly of telling the audience WHAT the law says, without conveying the WHY behind it. Even many so-called safety professionals struggle to explain why or the purpose / intent behind requirements - just keep perpetuating it 'because the law says we have to".
I'm reminded of the story where a man asked his wife why she cut off both ends of the roast before placing it in the roasting pan. His wife shrugged her shoulders and explained that was what her mother had always done. So the man asked his mother-in-law, who also shrugged and could only offer that it was what her mother had always done. So the man went to his wife's grandmother who explained that when she first got married, the only roasting pan they had was too short, so she cut the ends off to make the roast fit!
Having come from a background of working with quality management systems at the time when ISO9001 was just starting to be implemented, I found - then as well as now - that many people simply don't understand and are not in the habit of asking further questions to understand the principles behind the rules (and often regulators enact 'knee-jerk' regulatory requirements that similarly lack the rigour of deeper consideration in their haste to be seen to be taking action). When people lack understanding and seek the relative comfort of certainty, they will often look for an organisation or practitioner who seems to know what they are doing and just copy their systems and processes entirely or nearly entirely by rote - this is how organisations acquire systems and processes that are not fit for purpose, and often that don't really contribute to safer workplaces. Given these contributing factors, we shouldn't be surprised that most managers and workers consider most health and safety systems to be bureaucratic paperwork.
One last comment on this: in effective safety management systems, the paperwork is only the documentation that
the processes used for risk assessment and implementation of controls; the paperwork is never "the process" itself.
Peter, dare I suggest we don't need a "short, pithy and printable" response to Mike Yardley? Sorry, but journos these days have largely forgotten that dispassionate and balanced reporting of facts is part of their profession. They are part-time entertainers now.
In other words, he knew he was being a prat. The last thing he wants is a dose of common sense to spoil his party.
Health & Safety is about enabling a business to do what they do. It is about getting things to go right as often as possible. Bruce Lee has a saying "You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend"
Health and safety is it's perfect form (not that it has been achieved) would be a seamless part of the business that is just "how we do things". It is about keeping the business and it's people moving in the same way marketing, or operations are.
Anyone can skydive once but it take health & safety to skydive twice.
Ask Mike to validate his argument with evidence. He will show you rules that the business themselves have put it place.......... who is to blame for that , if not the businesses themselves?
The best way to avoid having H & S strangle a business is to integrate it into the organisations operations. Do that, and it will no longer be seen as a cost, instead, it will become part of what they do.
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