Health and Safety at Work For Dummies
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Managing health and safety in any organisation may seem like an enormous task, but don’t forget that it’s not all down to you: Everyone needs to take personal responsibility for their own health and safety, and that of others.

At the heart of UK law is a co-operative ethic —employers, employees and the self-employed all need to exercise care in what they do. This Cheat Sheet will help you get started with health and safety management and ensure that your team sees health and safety as an essential element of your organisation.

Doing the risk assessment the right way

Risk assessment is core to safety — it’s a tool you use to identify and control the risks that your business faces. Here are a few tips to help you get it right the first time:

  • Don’t overcomplicate it. Keep your risk assessment as simple as you can, while making sure that it covers all significant risks.

  • Make your risk assessment relevant and specific to your workplace and activities. It needs to reflect what you do, not what you think you do.

  • Use relevant good practice and industry guidance to support your risk assessment. You’ll be surprised at what’s out there, so don’t try to work out a solution from scratch when you can access perfectly good guidance that covers how to take health and safety action.

  • Talk to the people who do the job to get their input if you don’t know much about the activity you’re assessing, otherwise you may get your risk assessment wrong.

  • Make your risk assessment proportionate to the risk. Don’t spend ages getting bogged down in trivia.

  • Use your risk assessment to help you make decisions, not to confirm decisions you’ve already made!

  • Don’t forget to implement the extra precautions that you identify in your risk assessment. It’s no good to you or your organisation if you leave it sitting on a shelf, collecting dust.

Changing safety behaviour

Effective safety management involves people doing the right thing, following safety rules, looking out for themselves and each other, and having the right attitude.

Changing safety behaviour can be a bit tricky. It can take a long time and if you don’t know what you’re doing it can easily backfire.

The aim is to change unsafe (undesirable) behaviour to safe (desirable) behaviour. A step-by-step approach may look like this:

  1. Recognise the specific behaviour that needs changing (the unsafe behaviour).

  2. Measure the existing level of this unsafe behaviour by observation (you can train people to be ‘behavioural auditors’ and conduct these behavioural audits — this can set a baseline level).

  3. Identify the cues or triggers that cause the unsafe behaviour and the good and bad outcomes that may result from it (this is where you have to analyse why people adopt unsafe behaviour).

  4. Train employees to observe and record this unsafe behaviour (this spreads the workload so that everyone is looking out for unsafe behaviour, but it may start with supervisors).

  5. Praise/reward safe behaviour and challenge unsafe behaviour – this encourages safe behaviour.

  6. Provide feedback on safe/unsafe behaviour levels regularly to your workforce.

Making a case for safety initiatives at work

Safety tends to cost money. As with every other activity in a business, you may need to justify why you need the money for a safety initiative and, crucially, what value it brings to the business.

You can use three basic types of argument to persuade managers (or yourself) to commit to a particular safety issue:

  • The financial argument: The losses associated with the identified risk outweigh the costs of preventative action, so you have a sound business case.

  • The moral argument: Civilised employers don’t cause avoidable harm, and therefore risk management is good management.

  • The legal argument: Health and safety standards are embedded in criminal and civil law, and managers have no choice but to comply with the legal framework in their day-to-day operations.

Raising the profile of health and safety

Safety won’t happen if you, the manager, don’t give it your full support and show visible commitment — in short, you need to “walk the talk” by following through on the promises you make in your statement of general (health and safety) policy.

Tactics you can use to impress upon your employees the importance of health and safety in your organisation include:

  • Emphasising the importance of health and safety in the statement of general policy

  • Adding health and safety responsibilities to managers’ job descriptions

  • Considering health and safety in all business decisions

  • Including health and safety on Board meeting agendas

  • Providing resources for safety initiatives without hesitation

  • Holding senior managers accountable for health and safety performance through the appraisal process

  • Reporting to the Board on health and safety performance

  • Giving health and safety equal status to other information (like financial information) in the business’s annual report

About This Article

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Established in 1928, RRC International has a reputation for training excellence throughout the world, offering Health, Safety and Environment courses including those accredited by NEBOSH, IOSH and IEMA.

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