Managing Director, Anntara Management Ltd, Anntara Management

Author Bio ▼

Subash has over 32 years of Operational Risk Management experience (including the following subjects; Health and Safety, Food Safety, Environmental Management, Business Continuity, Fire Safety, Road Safety and Disaster Recovery). Subash left his role as a board director within a large PLC in 2002 to establish a consultancy business, he has worked for organisations large and small all over the world.Subash was the President of the Chartered Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) in 2011/12 and a member of the board of trustees 2014/15.Outside of the working world Subash was a Public Member for Network Rail from 2008 to 2011.
May 31, 2016

Get the SHP newsletter

Daily health and safety news, job alerts and resources

culture & behaviours

21st Century thinking: Society and SHE

Former IOSH President Subash Ludhra looks at how societal norms and peer pressure could help H&S become less prescriptive and more outcomes orientated. 

During a recent trip to Berlin in Germany I was surprised to see so many locals (young and old) waiting at red traffic light signals to cross the roads despite the roads being clear of any traffic.

Being a busy Londoner, I generally proceeded to cross the roads (having carried out my own instantaneous risk assessment) ignoring the tutting, jeering and stern faces of many of the observers. Interestingly many other tourists were conforming to the local ways.

I observed the same behaviour pattern some weeks later when I visited a number of cities in Switzerland.

It occurred to me that whilst the law may prohibit the crossing of roads on a red signal, it was not the law, law enforcers or consequential penalties that were dictating this behaviour. It appeared to be social pressure based on societal norms developed over many years and passed down through generations.

This got me thinking about how we have traditionally managed risk within the UK.



The emphasis has typically been on rules and prescription, but as Dame Judith Hackitt recently stated, rules and prescription do not work, for example, how often do we see vehicle drivers in the UK, driving whilst operating a hand held mobile phone device despite the law prohibiting this activity.

Could this traditional model which was very relevant in the 1960s and 70s be flawed in today’s world? How many SHE professionals are still using this model in an attempt to reduce incidents? The regulations have traditionally been very prescriptive but it has not prevented individuals and organisations breaking the rules. Yet in Germany and Switzerland I was observing first hand individuals exhibiting safety behaviour despite there being no realistic prospect of being punished for breaking them. In fact, I must have broken the rules several times a day over many days in plain sight of the authorities without any legal intervention.

If employers genuinely want to manage operational risk they need to stop doing what we have been doing for years and take a different approach.

Is it time to now adapt this model to suit the 21st century and focus on one of the most powerful drivers we have had for thousands of years: societal stigma or peer pressure, getting individuals or organisations to do the right thing because we collectively believe that it is the right thing to do and not because the law says we have to do it. Clearly society needs rules and boundaries to operate within but there is no reason why these (in relation to H&S) cannot be less prescriptive and more outcomes orientated (as stated by the HSE in their new business plan).

So how can employers harness this within their organisations with the support of their competent in house SHE professionals or external consultants?

This is where strong leadership has to come in, driven from the top via the organisation’s values and believes, where high standards of H&S are a condition of employment (and not a nice to do) and these standards are monitored not by the H&S professionals and line managers, but by everybody.

Working with large multinational organisations overseas I have already seen evidence of this in practice. There are many counties were H&S legislation is not well embedded or enforced and in its absence, many of these organisations have focused on developing the right culture based on their strong values and embedding them into the local workplace.

This may sound like were heading towards H&S utopia but I believe that if employers genuinely want to manage operational risk they need to stop doing what we have been doing for years and take a different approach, one where everyone collectively takes an interest in the actions of others and exerts a level of positive peer (societal) pressure.

It can work and even I was finding myself conforming to those traffic signals by the end of my trip to Switzerland.

Is our health & safety focus aimed at the wrong generation?

The Safety Conversation Podcast: Listen now!

The Safety Conversation with SHP (previously the Safety and Health Podcast) aims to bring you the latest news, insights and legislation updates in the form of interviews, discussions and panel debates from leading figures within the profession.

Find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts, subscribe and join the conversation today!

Related Topics

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments