People are our greatest assets, not paperwork
If you have been following this blog for even a little while you would have realised that I am definitely not a proponent of focusing purely on legislative compliance, reliance on technology, convoluted systems producing reams of paper work that nobody reads let alone understand or, following stupid trends like “Zero Harm” or BBS that leave only the Board Members with a warm fuzzy feeling. All of these things may produce short term and very inspiring results (often for dubious reasons be it fear or fudging numbers) but the inevitable always happens – the results plateau and we go looking for the next safety silver bullet or panacea. Read some of the stuff by Dr Robert Long, George Robotham or Phil LaDuke who have often expressed these thoughts a hell of a lot more eloquently than I ever could.
In a recent article, Dr Carolyn Yeoman, of WSP Environment and Energy, stated that Australia’s new WHS Act has similarities to the UK Health and Safety at Work Act, first introduced in 1974. (see the article here). She is spot on when she states employers that produce or pay for lengthy documents to cover every possible safety risk – and forget about their good people in the process – are likely to flounder, after the initial wave of improvements, on the “safety plateau”.
In general, the problems encountered in the UK are not the regulations themselves but how they have been interpreted and applied. Importantly, there has been a strong emphasis on systems, procedures and risk assessments. However, UK businesses have often produced, or paid for, lengthy documents covering every conceivable risk, sometimes at the expense of controlling the significant risks in their workplace. The requirement to carry out a risk assessment has turned into a bureaucratic nightmare for some businesses. There have been instances where regulations designed to address real risks have extended to cover trivial ones, resulting in negative media hype.
An added complication has been that employers are increasingly facing the prospect of civil action from employees, contractors and sometimes members of the public. The threat of being sued is often a key driver for many businesses going beyond regulatory requirements. As the ‘compensation culture’ in the UK has grown, employers have been advised to keep extensive of records in case of litigation. This leads to an even greater emphasis on generating paperwork for every possible risk.
Good systems on their own do not ensure successful health and safety management. The level of success is determined by how organisations ‘live’ their systems. Strategies to promote health and safety behaviours increase the likelihood that rules and procedures will be used in practice. These strategies are crucial and should support any health and safety management system.
Read the whole article here.