But that’s exactly what researchers from Loughborough University have found is happening in sectors such as logistics and healthcare.
What’s more, they say practitioners should recognise these “workarounds” are happening and support them where possible.
When you break this down, it may not be as alarming as it first sounds.
Aside from high-hazard activities, there is seldom just one right way of doing things safely. Risk-based regulatory frameworks give room for flexibility. Most UK OSH law, for example, allows dutyholders to devise their own methods of managing risk, which will be tested for fitness in the event of accidents or sickness. Approved codes of practice offer compliant methods but state that, if you can devise an alternative way to achieve the same level of protection, it is valid.
Most regulations require risk assessment by a competent person but, for smaller tasks and more obvious hazards, the frontline staff will know them better than anybody.
There may also be an element of necessity to some of these workarounds. The Loughborough academics highlight home delivery drivers as one group whose highly-variable, unsupervised workplace make dynamic risk assessment and an element of improvisation both necessary and inevitable.
By coincidence, home delivery staff are cited by Neil Lennox, head of safety at Sainsbury’s, as an example of the changing world of retail in our January 2017 issue leader interview.
The supermarket chain gives these lone workers equipment and training to work safely but, as Lennox admits, relies on their judgement out in the field to manage a shifting combination of hazards.
Most of the leaders interviewed in this magazine try to encourage the OSH specialists in their organisations to cede day-to-day risk control to those who are best able to manage it at close range, whether that is managers, supervisors or, in this case, the frontline workers.
The OSH professional’s role then becomes more akin to a consultant’s, providing training and advice and stepping in when the hazards are too complex for a non-specialist to assess.
Practitioners can gather details of local adaptations, systematise the best of them and adapt or replace the ones that introduce unforeseen hazards.
All of this is a long way from the idea of workers “going rogue” and inventing their own OSH rules. It may bring practitioners new challenges, but also new opportunities.
Wishing you a happy and healthy 2017.