Typically in a small business, the owner is the one who find themselves working all hours of the day and night, wearing all the hats of sales, marketing, accounts, distribution, and whatever it takes to get the job done within the constraints of a limited budget.

As the business grows, generally one of two things start to happen and this is often the way the business is shaped going forward. Either the owner continues to run their own ship, maybe hiring an “admin” type person to try and keep things tidy behind them, and continues to sail into a whirlpool of “busyness” where juggling tasks and fire-fighting becomes the norm. These business don’t generally grow very big, and if they are fortunate to stay around they will earn the owner a living at best, as well as a good old chunk of stress.

The thought of delegating tasks out to people they hardly know, being certain that only they themselves are the ones that can do the tasks as well as they can be done, is totally foreign to them. They would hardly entertain the thought. 

The other type of owner will recognise these potential issues and will go about building up a team of people that he can trust to take over and manage the various departments, in view of taking the organisation to the next level. These owners will understand that they have to trust people if they are to take the company forward because it is impossible to run a decent size organisation on your own.

So with a growing team in place, everyone receives their job description and they set about their daily lives doing what they do best (mostly) and earning a living, they are provided with the tools they need and made aware of their line managers and team mates. They are enabled to do their work.

This method will be successful to a greater or lesser degree and providing no-one steps out of line and the business continues to grow they will be safe in their jobs, and generally speaking will work well, however, there is one small problem with this method which manifests itself when the culture adopts a “Not-My-Job” mentality and tasks or issues may not get done or may be overlooked, because it’s not technically my job to do those things.

Now I realise that this is a very broad and high level view of a typical organisation but I’m willing to bet that most readers will get the gist of the point I am making.

Take this a step further and consider a leader who has a vision and has instilled this into his team and set them free to carry out tasks in whatever way they like (within reason) in view of helping the organisation reached the goals set out. The leader has taken a step back after having briefed their team, knowing for certain that they can probably do each respective job better that they can themselves.

This is a team now that is working together to the same common goal and are prepared to help each other towards that goal as it is now in everyone’s best interest that it happens that way. It’s a team that now go above and beyond their calling or job description, because now they are interested in the bigger picture as opposed to their own immediate interests.

These people are now empowered.

Now put this theory to test from a health and safety perspective in any given organisation, and see what difference there is and consider the potential outcomes…

First you have the one man band… These guys do everything themselves anyway, so the likelihood is that if they have had the time to put some kind of H&S system in place it may well be a very good and robust system, because no-one can do it better than them, right? However, realistically the reality is more likely to be that they haven’t had the time to even think about H&S and therefore would only be susceptible if anything actually happened. And because there’s only one or two to worry about and there’s no legal requirement at this stage, the likelihood of anything going wrong is low… Fingers crossed.

Next you have the enabled team… This is where there will be a good and recognised system in place and everybody will know exactly what their role is (and isn’t) for this process. There will be policies and procedures in place and instructions to follow in the event of an incident taking place, which will include a paper trail of accountability on which to fall back in the event of an incident. They will almost certainly have crossed all there “T’s” and dotted their “I’s”.

And finally those that are empowered… These are the guys who have developed a culture of safety. They take responsibility not only for their own safety but that of their colleagues also. They are actively engaged with the safety process on site and will willingly report situations that are unsafe, or near-misses etc. There will be open channels of communication from the management to the shop floor, because it’s not cool to have a them and us culture and to withhold information when it matters. It’s companies like these that have excellent safety records, and strive each day for the benefit of the people as a team, not just individuals.