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Giving people the chance to breath

  • 12 November 2018 - 17:06

    I once sat in a board meeting and a really forward thinking operations director said to the managing director: 'How on earth can we expect our managers to be really open and honest about our health and safety performance and really expect them to think for themselves when we don’t let them do that anywhere else in our business. They are so driven to follow budgets and prepare reports that they didn’t, in a lot of cases, have the confidence to really challenge how things were. The business was so full of procedures that it couldn’t breath.'

    It was a ground-breaking comment for the business almost 20 years ago and the then MD really got it. He set in motion a way of working that allowed his line managers to be open and honest. He  encouraged people to talk freely; and he took it further, he set up a group that gave direct accountability from top to bottom. It was gold.

    Every quarter around 20 employees from the sharp end of the business used to meet with the managing director, myself, a key operations director and our communications director. The group was purposely one sided to the workforce and the management team consisted only of people who could make decisions at a high level. The employees had a real voice and over time as their confidence grew they started to shout.

    This group made some amazing decisions on how health and safety was implemented. New approaches to employee participation, selection of high-quality workwear and involvement in the development of training sessions were some of the successes.

    Unfortunately these approaches are very fragile and it all changed when the MD changed, but for a while the business ‘believed’ in health and safety.

    So what simple steps can you put in to place that could have a similar effect? Please consider these:

    Hold regular safety meetings but really ask yourself and the attendees:

    • Are they effective?
    • What needs to be done to stop them being just a talking shop?
    • Are the attendees there because they really want to make a difference?
    • Do the site management really want to hear what is being said and make changes as a result?

    Challenge your management style:

    • How focused are you on financial results and is this sometimes making you make incorrect decisions?
    • Has production pressures ever been allowed to slip past you to the site team in a negative way?
    • I am not saying production and profit aren’t important, I am just asking how you manage these influences.

    How complicated are your systems and procedures and could they be streamlined?

    • I once saw a COSHH register that had a bic pen as a hazardous substance. It got worse there was an assessment for red, blue, black and green ink. Someone had spent the time putting it together. Why? What changes were made.
    • Get back to basics and do really good regular risk assessments for the tasks that have significant risk, spend your time there.

    I have done a few blogs recently around these themes and want to start to write about the things that are of particular interest to you, the readers.

    So please take time to drop me a line outlining a topic that you would like covered.

    Email [email protected]

    Tel 07799 656303


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