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May 4, 2016

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FM focus: Health and safety and the FM professional

group-42917_960_720Paul R King, Director at Charlton Ross asks “Is managing health and safety a fundamental part of FM or is it an HR role?”

The average facilities manager or facilities department is often seen as the health and safety department or at the very least the custodian of health and safety for an organisation. After all they are responsible for identifying any plant and equipment for which there may be statutory inspections, such as passenger lifts, water cooling towers, mobile elevated work platforms (MEWPs) and PPE and RPE.

Despite what the tabloid media, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Littlejohn in particular would have us all believe, the effective management of health and safety or “elf n safety”  has one underlying goal; that is reducing risks to people, whether those risks be the risk of death or serious injury or long term ill health.

Unfortunately, the headlines are taken up by examples of the sometimes ridiculous and often spurious claims of personal injury which on the face of it may be more to do with poor personal choices than the culpability of an organisation, company or employer.  Let’s not forget that the effective management of health and safety does not make for good headlines: Company Has 1,000,000 Working Hours Injury and Incident Free won’t be headline news. Mrs Scroggins Trips in High Heels Due to Uneven Footpath is a different matter.

If managing health and safety is about people, why is it not an HR function?  Companies will often cite the mantra “Employees are our most valuable asset”.  Staff engagement, talent acquisition, working with what for some time was referred to as the company’s human capital, are all roles and responsibilities of the HR function, of line managers.  In many organisations it is interesting to note that the health and safety team or function sits in the FM team or department, not HR. Why is that?

“Health and safety cannot be pigeon holed into a department, it is a way or working, a culture, a way that a business operates.”

Performance management is a line management responsibility, an HR responsibility, so why not health and safety performance?  As an employee, the annual appraisal will look at any number of aspects of my performance, achievement of targets, attendance, attainment of specific training goals, interaction with colleagues, evidence of meeting KPIs; is any consideration given to whether I have done my job safely, in a safe manner without exposing others to risk?  Is consideration given to whether I have followed the organisation’s own stated policy on health and safety?  Is the fact that I have continually propped open that fire door with the fire extinguisher raised during my appraisal?

Surely the effective management of health and safety should simply be an extension of the normal management process and operations of the business – business as usual if you like.  Health and safety cannot be pigeon holed into a department, it is a way or working, a culture, a way that a business operates.  Working efficiently and effectively should, by default mean that risks are reduced.  The safe way to carry out a particular task is more often than not the most effective way to do the task.  Trying to carry out a task at height, balancing precariously on a ladder and over reaching will probably mean the task cannot be completed properly and it will have to be redone at some later point.  If a suitable risk assessment had been carried out in the first place and access arrangements made with a working platform, the task could have been completed properly first time – getting it right first time every time can be achieved if risks are considered at the outset.

What part does effective staff training play in establishing an effective safety culture and safe working environment for all?  Is training an HR function or FM?  How many FMs have arranged safety related training courses only to find very poor attendance even when the training has been deemed to be mandatory?  If there are no consequences for non-attendance is it any surprise that staff don’t always attend?

The reality for many businesses, particularly in what are considered relatively low risk environments is that the range of potential health and safety risks associated with property and facilities management cover the entire range of facilities and services delivered for and used by a business and are often the higher risks.  In an office environment for example, the higher risks are associated with the built environment, the boilers, the lifts, the suspended access equipment, the fire precautions, the water systems, pressure systems, cooling towers, window cleaning, catering, the electrical installation, management of asbestos.  It is therefore perhaps understandable that health and safety is seen as an FM role.

The reality however is that health and safety is not an entity on its own. Health and safety is not the responsibility of a single department or person, it is a way of working, a way of doing business.  Most businesses would like to be considered as professional in the way they do things, part of that has to be about ensuring all work and tasks are carried out safely, without exposing people at work or others affected by the work to risks.

The most effective way to ensure that a positive safety culture is embedded in an organisation is to ensure that it is not simply seen as something that sits with a particular department but is a line management responsibility; something for which every employee will be held accountable.


Paul R King is Director at Charlton Ross, a risk management professional with 25 years of hands on experience at strategic, tactical and operational levels in a range of sectors.  Paul is a Graduate Member of the Institution of Fire Engineers, a Chartered Safety Practitioner and a Member of the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management. Paul has been a technical author and peer reviewer for Barbour, part of the UBM Global Publishing Group.

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Clare Williams
Clare Williams
7 years ago

Bravo! I agree wholeheartedly.