A recent survey by YouGov considered 525 SME's (all with employees). The statistics were concerning

  • 22% said they had 1 person or no people responsible for health and safety;
  • 23% said this was because of time;
  • 19% blamed cost;
  • 32% admitted one preventable accident within the last 12 months.

The administration of health and safety is time consuming, will cost money but should reduce the number of accidents at work and is a legal requirement.

However, how you spend the time and money is really the key.

For example, it is necessary to appoint someone 'competent' to help meet health and safety requirements. That could be the business owner, one or more workers or an external consultant on a retainer. What your business needs are, how often health and safety input is required and why, are all considerations to determine which is your best option. Should you undertake this personally? Should you train up an employee or two? Should you employ an external consultant on a retainer? This is a personal business decision depending upon many factors.

A major issue with many health and safety regimes is implementation. Systems work better with an engaged workforce taking personal responsibility for their own health and safety.

Policies, procedures, risk assessments and reporting documents are all important. You have to evidence practices as well as implement them.

However, your employees should:

  • know why the policies and procedures are there and have inputted into their development;
  • know what they can do to help prevent accidents or suffer illnesses;
  • know what to do and why if they see or suffer an accident;
  • know what the symptoms are of diseases and illnesses that may arise from their work;
  • feel unhindered and confident to report messy walkways, near misses, injuries or illness or anything else important to the maintenance of their and others health and safety;
  • can make suggestions and know they are taken seriously and implemented when possible;
  • consider they are part of the health and safety solution rather than the problem!

Putting up signs, issuing personal protective equipment and training someone to do a job are all important. But telling them why they are wearing the protection, why the sign is there and why you are enforcing certain, perhaps unpopular, measures are all just as critical to a good regime.

Education and implementation work hand in hand. To properly implement the regime your employees must understand why; otherwise they may just see more rules to follow and big brother watching. Employees take the risks and they deserve to know why the rules are in place and not just 'to protect you' or 'for your own good'.

Toolbox talks are an underused and often badly misused communication resource. A good toolbox talk can inform, respond to concerns and educate a workforce. A bad toolbox talk can leave employees signing for training they never really had. The former provides an educated workforce who appreciate an employer who cares for them and the latter a workforce who wonder what they were called in for!

The role of a competent person is often viewed as a poison chalice. The type of business, availability of funding for the role and availability of a suitable employee may decide this question for you. If you want to outsource then shop around for the right consultant with some experience in your sector and who can provide the time when required.

Article by Simon Matthews of Searchlight Consulting.

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