Senior health and safety consultant and trainer Paul Godwin GradIOSH says the restart of work following lockdown could be a time to focus on much more than just safety.
After a period where many businesses have been shut, the UK is now following a plan to return to work and attempt to get back to normal. We know it will be all hands on deck for many companies to try and return to pre-2020 levels of trade. But while business is vitally important, so too is safety. Could this be the right time to reboot safety in the workplace? And if so, how can we do it?
The first step is to change our focus on safety – not by looking at facts and figures, but by looking at people’s emotional reactions and connections to the subject. We need to ask the question: what matters most? Is it really that everyone goes home safe each day?
Actually, that’s the least we can do for our staff. Health and safety regulations were put in place to ensure that people can expect to go home safe after a day at work, but we must remember that health and safety regulations are the bare minimum of things you're supposed to do when it comes to safety. In fact, doing anything less than health and safety regulations can result in a fine or even a prison sentence.
The truth is, no one expects to get hurt at work. All employees have a basic belief that their employers will do what's necessary to protect them from harm, and that's already the expectation of the HSE. So when we tell our staff what matters most is that they go home safely, they already know that. That's their basic expectation – we’re not telling them anything more than they already expect.
I understand that when we say things like this, it's supposed to inspire a focus on safety and looking out for each other. But really – when you boil it down – with this expressed aim, we're actually setting the bar really low!
When you look at securing a new client or new business, you don't do the minimum to get the business; you pull out all the stops because you know the minimum is not good enough. So is sending people home safe really good enough for your organisation, or could you be doing a lot more?
What about sending your staff home better than when they showed up at work? What would it take to make sure you sent them home better? How about getting them home safe with a sense of pride?
Proud of the quality of their work. Proud of the kind of employer they work for. Proud of the team they work with and contribute to. Proud of the kind of person that they've become since joining your business. Proud to lend a helping hand to anyone else who needs it. Proud to serve their customers with grace and gratitude. Proud of the way they make good, safe choices on the job.
If you sent them home safe and proud, would that not be better than the bare minimum of just sending them home safe? Then, what if you sent them home safe and inspired?
Inspired to want to be better employees and better people. Inspired to be a better contributor to the team. Inspired to want to look out for others in their workforce and anyone who's visiting their jobsite. Inspired to demonstrate their own leadership capabilities. Inspired to be proactive in safety instead of reactive in a crisis. Inspired to speak up and be a positive member of the team. Inspired to follow safety protocols because it's the right thing to do, without being told to or needing to be reminded.
Again, by sending them home and inspired, wouldn't that be sending them home better than they arrived? Then you could further enhance their working life by doing the same with their sense of being valued.
Valued for the people they are and the contribution they bring to the workplace. Valued for the results they achieve and the quality of work they give. Valued for the experience and positive attitude that they bring to the job. Valued as an irreplaceable part of the company's success. Valued as a good person who makes good decisions to provide for their family. Valued for the way they value safety.
Do more, achieve more
There are good, practical reasons for doing more, too. Being a safety-leading company, no matter what size business, ensures it stands out from the crowd, as well as potentially saving money and reducing insurance premiums. Valued, inspired and proud workforces are more effective workforces, and that can also result in financial benefits.
Directors and business owners are safety leaders and make a contribution to the lives of the people they work with. Anyone who is simply enforcing rules can get people to go home safe; it's what you do beyond those minimum expectations that actually makes you a leader.
Safety leadership isn't just a title or a certificate on a wall: it's a set of values and principles. Leaders have to go first – that's why they're called ‘leaders’ – so open the lines of communication, connect to your employees and make them feel valued, inspired and proud. Lead from the front and aim high.
Safety gets better when people work safely together, so let's start shooting for something that's far beyond the bare minimum we can do. Real safety leaders know we can do so much more. When we focus on making sure people go home better than when they arrived, we force ourselves and each other to go far beyond the bare minimums of safety for everyone in our businesses.
From this point onwards, let's stop saying what matters most is that people go home safe. What really matters is that people are valued, inspired and proud, and better than when they came to work this morning. In other words, treat them like a VIP (Valued Inspired Proud).