Why Health and Safety Needs to be About More Than Just Compliance – And What it Should be About
We all want to keep our people safe at work, but the red tape of health and safety can overwhelm. As a result, we often focus our attention on what is needed for legal coverage – benefitting no one. We need a better way to care for our people – one that goes beyond compliance and focused on what matters most: creating a safety culture in the business.
In the modern world, workers in just one company can be stationed in countless places – the construction site, the lab, the office, working from home or across the globe – which makes keeping an eye on all hazards and making sure everyone has the information most relevant to them almost impossible for health and safety managers.
At the same time, many western countries have tightened laws and regulations around workplace health and safety and the penalties for not complying are serious. In the USA organizations can be fined well over $100,000 for a single violation that resulted in an accident . Just this week, for example, a Ohio Auto Insulation Manufacturer was fined over half a million following the amputation of a workers hand. Furthermore, the penalty for failing to report fatalities, hospitalizations, amputations and eye losses has recently been raised from $1,000 to $5,000 .
In New Zealand, since the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 came into effect, the persons responsible for workplace safety can be fined up to NZ$600,000 and could even face jail time for an incident.
This is scary and understandably puts compliance at the tops of minds for employers and business leaders.
Compliance is top of mind for most businesses
For many, the knee-jerk reaction to these threats is to focus on protecting the company from legal fallout by putting processes and systems in place that are designed around compliance. For example, often visitors, contractors and staff are asked to review and acknowledge a novel-length health and safety document when they first set foot on site. Hey presto, job done, no legal fallout should anything happen. Right? But how many people really read these documents and really take the time to understand the risks that might be present?
Compliance-focused thinking doesn’t actually improve the wellbeing and safety of the workforce and visitors. And accordingly the figures tell a depressing tale - in the USA, workplace fatalities have gone from 4,693 in 2010 to 4,863 in 2015 years . In New Zealand, seven people died on the job just within the month of April this year .
Those responsible for the safety of a workforce are faced with a dilemma.
On the one hand, they are under immense pressure to comply with laws and regulations. But on the other hand, data suggests that a compliance-focused approach does not actually ensure the safety of the workforce.
What is needed is a cultural shift.
Rather than operating in a state of fear of being penalized, burdening the workforce with red-tape and time-consuming processes (and then being saddled with lost production time if anything happens) it might be time to consider a different strategy – one that changes the culture and engages the people themselves.
The workforce are the eyes and ears on the ground, and they’re primarily whose livelihoods are at stake. Having them on board is key to keeping everyone safe - and your organization compliant.
According to safety experts, a shift to an effective safety culture happens when the entire workforce is encouraged to hold safety above all else – despite the effects on output they may believe it will have. It’s when they routinely feel compelled to identify and remedy hazards, with pride, and know they’ll never be discriminated against. It’s when there’s no blame on fellow employees, instead they concentrate on correcting the safety system failure. They’re also comfortable to let each other know when it looks like they’re doing something risky, or acknowledge safe behaviour.
An effective safety culture means the business actually operates better.
There are also financial benefits to the organisation. An effective safety culture doesn’t just cut down on expensive accidents – it can mean the organization actually operates better. Personal injury attorneys McCarthy Weisberg Cummings says “employees who know they have someone they can share their safety concerns with, and that they will be listened to, are more likely to be motivated to perform well on the job. This is good for business, because employees who are happy and efficient boost the company’s bottom line.”
So how do we engage and empower our workforce to keep themselves and their co-workers safe?
To embed a safety culture, leading by example, electing reps and establishing committees are great first steps but they are unlikely to have any real impact unless everyone is given access to the tools to engage and participate.
The right kind of health and safety software can be one of these tools.
The problem is that most existing health and safety software is designed around processes and compliance – not engagement and participation.
To be engaging, the software needs to enable everyone to communicate and collaborate in real-time. Every team member should have the ability to easily and quickly report hazards, incidents, near misses and any other health and safety concerns in real-time.
For example, imagine your employee spots machinery in the workplace with broken guards, exposing moving parts that a worker could accidentally touch and injure themselves on. Does your workforce know what to do? And if so, how long does it take for a potential issue like this to find its way to the right person who can then take action to get it resolved? And how do you make sure your entire team knows about the risk – immediately (not three hours later)?.
What businesses need is a tool that enables the employee to send a quick message from any device (mobile phone, tablet, desktop) that is automatically directed to the right person in real-time. This person then needs to be able to identify the issue as a hazard or incident which automatically sends notifications to the entire workforce making sure everyone is informed in right away. They should then be able to create and assign tasks to get the issue resolved as quickly as possible – all while the employee who raised the issue has full visibility into what is happening, keeping them informed and engaged.
Effective health and safety software needs to be more than real-time.
But effective health and safety software that supports the drive towards a safety culture needs to be more than just being real-time. There are several other factors that differentiate engagement and culture driven software tools from those that are compliance and process-driven.
Access the White Paper below to learn more about all seven top characteristics of effective health and safety software.