Over the last 10 – 20 years I have spent the majority of my working life dealing with Health & Safety professionals in many different industries – Food, Chemical, Automotive, Steel, Aerospace, Construction, etc. etc.

The vast majority of these people are very good and able professionals whom I would happily trust if I were ever under their care from an H&S perspective.

However, they all had certain things in common.

  1. They were almost always ridiculously busy
  2. They often had massive challenges communicating their safety processes to their colleagues
  3. Despite their best efforts, staff repeatedly ignored safety advice

There are no doubt many more common denominators that you will be able to come up with, but nevertheless these guys, professionals that they are, soldiered on, focused on doing their job to the best of their ability.

The really good ones spent a lot of their time on the shop floor. Yes they were qualified and had passed their respective exams, but they understood the importance of working with the guys at the coal face, to get to grips with what these people actually do in their day to day roles.

These were the guys that based their risk assessments and recommendations, not only on the risk factor of the work involved, but also on the feedback and experience of the operators working in that environment day in and day out.

They would spend time with the operators and develop a relationship with them so that safety improvements were mutually arrived at, accepted and implemented.

As a result the safety record in these organisations was often better than other companies

The not-so-good ones, often equally “qualified” were the ones with little experience of what actually happens on the shop floor, and were more inclined to make a long-range diagnosis of safety issues from the comfort of their own office.

They would look at a situation and figure out every conceivable risk and all but kill the process with red tape and protocols and restrictions and paperwork. The real reason for all this unnecessary palaver? To protect their own back. So if anything was to go wrong they could stand back with a smug look and say “I told you so”.

These are the people that read a post on a social network, miss the point entirely and put their “super-sleuth” skills in action to point out all the faults in the picture that happens to accompany the post!!

It’s these guys that slow down as they approach a green light, because it might change… Irrespective of the traffic behind them that just want to get on with their day.

Think about it, if you ever saw the COSHH data sheets for petrol and then observed the various forms of humanity filling their vehicles up with this liquid bomb, you would never go near a fueling station again! (Elon Musk starts to make a lot more sense!) Yet people continue to do so, because despite the risk, experience tells us that it’s not so bad after all.

That is, of course, if you even dared to leave the house and drive along a road at 30 – 60 mph with nothing but a couple of white lines to stop the crazy psychopaths that you don’t even know from swerving directly into your path and taking you out.

And sadly these things do happen, but we still get up and drive our vehicles to work, because experience tells us that mostly it’s OK to do so.

And that’s why Health & Safety doesn’t work. Yes, you have to be safe, you have to put procedures in place and it’s certainly an advantage if you have some qualifications to support your reasoning.

But to do so at the expense of proper communication, collaboration and engagement with the guys on the shop floor, without looking at the bigger picture, will mean that your suggestions will meet with a wall of resistance. This, sadly, may result in incidents (cue the smug look) and so the downward spiral continues.

If you study companies with excellent safety records, there’s also a common theme that runs through their reports – Communication. Communication with the management right through to the operators, so that business objectives meet with practical experience to figure out the safest and most effective ways of doing things.

From the top down and back again, if the channels of communication are aligned and the team is aligned and people are thinking about each other rather than just themselves, then we have a successful recipe for a Safety Culture.