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Improving your safety performance – are your people your problem or your solution?

Jane Mitchell

One of our clients made an interesting observation during the period of full on COVID-19 lockdown. While their manufacturing output continued at close to normal volumes, their strong social distancing measures led them to take team leaders and production managers off the shop floor, leaving workers to get on with the job unsupervised. During that period, and for the first time ever in that length of time, they had no safety incidents at all.   

So why was that? It could have been because workers were generally much more health and safety aware because of the loud volume of external media messages about health and safety – people were just being extra cautious. Or it could have been that they did have safety incidents but just did not report them because they felt they could ‘get away with it’ with no managers around. Or was it because with no managers around the workers felt less complacent about safety and took full personal responsibility for it as there was no one else to rely on?

In the few years that I’ve been helping large organisations to shape and improve their environment, health and safety culture, we’ve supported an increasing shift in the conversation from people being the problem to people being the solution.

Enabling organisations to move the focus away from telling people how they must behave to prevent safety incidents to enabling them to take full personal responsibility for improving safety. Rather than intervening in their behaviour, involving them in intervening and influencing the working conditions that enable them to be safe. Drawing on their competency and common sense, rather than relying on compliance and control.

This involves collaborating with the frontline and involving them in deciding the right tools; the right environment; the right expectations of one another to get the job done safely.   Then, rather than focusing on lagging measures – of what went wrong, focusing on leading measures of what we have in place to ensure things go right.

Moving the challenge away from how we change people so that they work more safely to how do we engage people so that we have a safer workplace.

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