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Complacency in Health & Safety?

Added: (Thu Oct 18 2007)

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Ever wondered why Health & Safety in your workplace is not as effective as it could be? Colin Nottage from Safety Horizon (www.safetyhorizon.com) encourages you to take a good look at your management.

I consider myself to be in a fortunate position. I am able to work alongside management to influence the approach businesses they take towards health and safety.

Through this work it has become apparent that complacency is a big problem in middle management. Regularly firms tell me they are comfortable with their health and safety systems, which is not only the wrong mindset to adopt but also no help when it comes to lowering incident rates.

The problem is that managers often struggle to grasp some of the basics of health and safety management such as training, site inspection and risk assessment.

What we have seems to be working, they say, but very often it is not, well not as efficiently as it could. If the systems were working, the number of incidents reported through RIDDOR would be much lower.


The amount of money wasted on training each year is enormous. If one person misses an eight delegate training course at £100 a head the relative costs increase to £114 a person.

You are also left with an untrained member of staff and there is a reduced employee pool from which to facilitate further training. So in real terms the cost of one person dropping a course is compounded.

But it is not just the financial penalties that bite. By not following through on training, by letting the employee miss the event, you have also sent the message that staff training is unimportant.

This is not only a de-motivator for staff but also says that your company does not hold H&S as important. This in turn hampers the development of a positive H&S culture in your organisation, something which is critical to establish.

Once training has been identified as a necessity, make sure it happens. Send the right message to your employees, contractors and customers. Well trained staff help build profitability and production levels.


Management and employees alike tolerate appalling housekeeping standards in the UK. It is often because they have witnessed even worse standards elsewhere within their organisation. There seems to be little pride in many workplaces.

If housekeeping is a concern on your site then you need an inspection regime in place. You also need to monitor its effectiveness.

Sites will only improve if people take ownership to improve the standards that are present. It cannot be just a box ticking exercise. Senior management need to read and engage with the results and act on them.


Risk assessments should involve people on the ground undertaking the activity and should be relevant to the site-specific task, yet this is not something I witness often.
They tend to be generic, non-specific documents with no buy-in from those at ground level. Another exercise undertaken reluctantly and not acted upon by management.

Again, it is an issue of complacency. Managers need to be challenging staff to identify tasks and involving them in the process from the beginning. They need to lead, and here may be the problem.


A lot of money has been spent on H&S training in recent years but I doubt whether managers can delegate and communicate what needs to be done in relevant ways.
Over the last few years there has been a lot of talk about visible felt leadership. I am a firm believer in the process where managers are proactive and initiate a dialogue with employees concerning how they perform tasks, what hazards they have considered before they undertake a particular task, and whether they are doing the work safely.

Many managers I meet are no longer challenging behaviour. One of the reasons for this could be because they prefer to avoid confrontation. But this is one of the skills of leadership. They haven’t been given training in the skills they need to bring about change. Many managers have been promoted to positions based on H&S knowledge and technical know-how not their management abilities.

Managers need to be periodically entering the workplace to audit behaviour.
However, many are permanently in hazard spotting and problem solving mode.
Instead of monitoring the number of times a manager is visible in the workplace, measure the quality of the interactions they are instigating.

Speak to those being met to ascertain the benefit gained from the meetings.
You need to ask whether they are being steered towards a management dependent culture. If they are, it will undo all the work that visible felt leadership is hoping to achieve.


I have visited some sites that are being run in an exemplary fashion. The management have clear routes for communication with the workforce and the physical conditions are very good. A significant reason why they are where they are is because they are not satisfied to rest on their laurels. They are always striving to improve their workplace by challenging staff even when things are going well and health and safety performance is improving.

A company is only ever as good as the people who work for it. Challenge the people above and below you to improve their performance. Work together and you can make a difference.

11 questions to ask about your own H&S system
1. Do you have written risk assessments for the activities you or your employees undertake?
2. Do you have a suitable training plan in place for your employees including induction training?
3. Have you successfully used or trialled your emergency procedures in the last two years?
4. Do you regularly hold safety committee meetings and keep minutes?
5. Do your employees undertake daily/weekly inspections on plant and equipment?
6. Have you issued your employees with personal protective equipment (PPE)?
7. Do you have any written procedures for emergency incidents that occur in your workplace?
8. Do you have a suitable procedure in place for the control of contractors?
9. Do you have controls in place for the handling, storage and disposal of substances (chemicals and fuels)?
10. Do you have a specific health and safety management system or health and safety manual?
11. Have you got a clear management structure with roles and responsibilities?

If you answer no to any of these questions then you may need to reconsider
your company’s health and safety systems.
Safety Horizon are a leading provider of health and safety consultancy based in the south-west and have over twenty years health and safety experience in a wide range of industries.
Having access to a network of established health and safety practitioners, we are able to provide support across the United Kingdom and Ireland with our main objective is to deliver sense and simplicity to health and safety in the workplace. Contact them at www.safetyhorizon.com

Submitted by:Colin Nottage
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