There are a wide variety of opinions when it comes to health and safety.
Some people think it’s a right royal pain, designed to make work harder and less efficient. Others – myself included – understand that health and safety is instead meant to protect workers, and instead encourage them to think about their safety at work and beyond.
No matter the opinion held, health and safety is unavoidable fact of professional life. Employers and employees are legally bound by a range of safety legislation, including the Health and Safety at Work Act, to ensure work is carried out safely and legally.
But let’s be honest, nobody likes being told what to do. ‘You have to do this because the government says so’ is hardly an effective rallying cry to get people on board.
The best way to sell the idea of health and safety, like everything, is on the benefits. This goes beyond employees’ physical safety, ranging from supporting mental well-being and more to increasing efficiency, reducing absenteeism, and even improving profits.
As much as we love toolbox talks, presentations, and bulletin board notices in health and safety, it can be challenging to get employees – and managers – to take health and safety on board, no matter how positively you spin it. Don’t get me wrong, these are crucial parts of the process but will only take you so far.
Before any process can be truly effective, it needs to become subconscious. So, for example, health and safety shouldn’t be something employees have to think hard about, but rather something they do, like a surgeon, washing their hands, or brushing their teeth in the morning.
So what can you do to make health and safety subconscious at work?
Understand Your Employees
Whenever I talk to clients about health and safety, I always bring up the Human Factor.
Here’s the thing. Right from when we’re born to the day we die, humans are fundamentally unpredictable. We might have our routines and favoured way of doing things, but there’s always a fine line between doing things a certain way and doing them entirely differently, depending on a range of factors.
It can be nearly impossible to predict which way we’ll go until it happens from the outside.
At work, this is even more obvious. No matter how effective or comprehensive your safety procedures are, you can’t guarantee employees will follow them. You can do safety briefings until you’re red in the face, but in the moment, it’s entirely likely your employees will choose to do things their way – whether due to arrogance or to save time – and everything falls apart.
A shocking report from Safety and Health Magazine says incident reports show that as many as 80% to 90% of serious injuries and accidents could be down to human behaviour.
So what can you do about it? I go into more detail in my blog about the Human Factor. Still, fundamentally, the only way to minimise this behaviour effectively is by understanding your employees as human beings rather than statistics and properly identifying the potential triggers of unwanted behaviour.
Once you have a more in-depth understanding of the people working for you and these triggers, you can more effectively communicate the safety message in a way they will respond to.
Start At The Top
For the most part, humans love to follow the leader. We’re suckers for trends and the latest fads because we like to feel like we’re part of the pack.
This is known as the ‘bandwagon effect’, and although ‘jumping on the bandwagon is sometimes used negatively, in the case of positive things such as health and safety, it can be a powerful tool.
The most effective way to start a bandwagon effect? Get those at the top invested in safety leadership coaching.
When employees see managers getting involved in health and safety and making a real effort to make it part of their day to day, they will want to do the same. If there is sufficient communication between upper management and employees, this positive reinforcement should trickle down and quickly become part of the culture.
For more information on just how effective safety leadership coaching can be, read my blog on the subject here
Make It Personal
Get rid of the faceless cartoons and stock photos in your safety training. Of course, this type of communication has its place, but the most effective way to get workers invested in safety is with a human focus, and better yet, a personal one.
Use real employees in your communications: people others know and recognise as friends or colleagues.
Emphasise just how important it is that people follow the rules to ensure their safety and the safety of others. The impact of accidents at work goes well beyond just those who work at the office, so a reminder that the people you work with every day have a life and family outside of work can go a long way.
Make Training Relevant
I hate to be the one to break this to you, but no one enjoys hundred-page PowerPoint presentations. Yes, it probably contains crucial information, but is it all relevant?
Whilst it can be hard to get face-time with employees, piling them into a room for three hours to stare at a presentation, of which 10-15% might only be relevant to them, is often less effective than doing nothing.
Instead – as above – get to know your employees as people and ensure you only deliver relevant safety information to them on a more regular basis. As a result, you’ll find they’ll be more engaged and less likely to nap.
Avoid Punishment AND Rewards
Whilst punishing and chastising employees for safety breaches is somewhat old hat these days (it’s more likely to lead to push back than any real change in behaviour), rewards for things like ‘X days without incident’ or ‘Y near-misses reported’ remain popular.
I advise against rewards for the simple fact that they can have unintended consequences, such as over-reporting.
Instead, recognition can be a far more valuable tool. Recognising the highlighted risk and the employee can be more effective in the long run and contribute to a more natural, habitual safety culture.
Making Safety a Habit
Fundamentally, making your safety culture subconscious means working directly with your employees and colleagues and portraying health and safety as a benefit rather than a hindrance. Don’t talk at them. Instead, talk with them, and lead by example.
I’ve worked with many businesses over the years to implement and maintain a healthy safety culture. If I can help you, send me a message on 07814 203 977, or use the contact form below.