Safety isn’t sexy: mind your own business!

In his latest column, Andrew Sharman asks the crucial question – the ‘why’, ‘where’, and ‘how’ of health and safety culture for businesses.

It’s been an interesting few days. It all started with the IOSH annual conference, then to participate in a webinar for Barbour with my friend and co-author Dame Judith Hackitt, and finally to teach at an Executive Business School near Paris.  All week one thing has been sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb.  How we talk about ‘health and safety’.

At the conference, there was an undercurrent of negativity around the phrase ‘health and safety’ – and indeed several speakers acknowledged the stigma surrounding our profession.  In the exhibition hall many suppliers were delightedly demonstrating their latest brands and    ways to make safety ‘fresh’.

Of the hundreds of questions that poured into the webinar*, many were assembled around the same theme – asking what Judith and I thought we should call ‘health and safety’ as an alternative. And again at the business school I was caught by several global leaders asking me why I thought H&S had got such a bad rep.

For me the answer is simple. We’ve oversold safety. Around the world companies – often guided by well-wishing H&S practitioners or enthusiastic CEOs – have leaped into ‘Zero Harm’, Safety First!’ and ‘Zero Injury’ campaigns, initiatives, and targets.

These lofty assertions have been accompanied by all manner of sexy signage and marketing propaganda – from life-sized posters, to funky gizmos and natty threads –  in a bid to make workers feel cared for, but essentially they all take the same approach – literally instructing people to ‘Be Safe!’. But it just isn’t working.

What should we call Health & Safety?

In the last year, many of our clients have consulted with us to seek our guidance with questions like “what should we call health & safety?” and “How we can make safety cool?” We’ve told them all the same thing, and never raised an invoice for the advice.

Here’s what we said. Stop with the attempts to re-brand safety. Engage your leaders. Clean up the BS and get to what safety is all about. People.

Workers today don’t need corporate spin and jazzy branding. They want to feel like what they do matters.  That leaders notice them, and the company values their contribution.  They want to feel cared for and appreciated, and acknowledged when they get things right.

This cannot be achieved through fancy logos, by re-branding or re-naming ‘Health & Safety’.  You need to build a sense of moral and ethical transparency, a demonstrated promise of authenticity and a culture of care.

My latest book Mind Your Own Business provides a five-step process to getting it just right, but for now consider the following:

WHY?
I’m sure you’ve seen the world’s most popular TED talk (no, it’s not mine, but that is provided at the bottom of this article) where Simon Sinek tells us we need to start with ‘why’.  Ask your leaders why safety is important to them, and then get them out on the shop-floor, sharing that with workers.

WHERE?

Then talk about the ‘where’. Paint a picture of the vision you have for safety.  Keep it clean and clear – real words, no spin. I like one of our clients’ notions of ‘Everyone, every day, home without harm’.

HOW?

Now share the ‘how’. Provide examples of successes in safety and health from your business, sector, or industry, and show how learnings from these can be leveraged. Re-position the role of the H&S person as a ‘business partner’ rather than an ‘advisor’ or ‘officer’.  You don’t need to change the job title, this is about what you do, not what you’re called.

The New Rule of Safety #19: Start with Why

You don’t need a brand. You need a narrative. When you have that, you don’t need to be sexy, you just need to be you.

About Andrew Sharman:

Andrew’s global best-selling book From Accidents to Zero: A Practical Guide to Improving Your Workplace Safety Culture is available to SHPonline readers with an exclusive 25% discount.

His new book Mind Your Own Business – co-authored with Dame Judith Hackitt is also out now.  Use the code SHP25 at www.fromaccidentstozero.com to order your copies of both books.

*Note: Watch out for the next blog feature which will collate the themes from the hundreds of questions at the latest Barbour webinar and provide Judith Hackitt and Andrew Sharman’s answers.

Andrew Sharman’s TED talk:

Barbour Download: Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace

According to Barbour, almost a third of workers have been bullied and half of women, and a fifth of men, have been sexually harassed at work. Bullying and harassment is offensive or insulting behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated. It may involve the abuse of power by one person over another, or it can involve groups of people.

This free employee factsheet contains:

  • What is bullying and harassment?
  • The impact of bullying;
  • The role of an employer;
  • Advice for combatting bullying;
  • Actions to take;
  • Sources of help and information.

Categories: Blog, Culture And Behaviours, New Safety and Health, Safety Management, Workplace psychology


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Sarah

Great article Andrew, I’ve been thinking exactly the same recently, how can I make Health & Safety more understandable for some people in my organisation and I’ve come up with Operational Risk, it seems to be working well! Looking forward to reading your book.

Andrew Sharman

Thanks Sarah!

lbromley

what a refreshing change to a conversation about what health and safety is really all about. Thank you for reassuring me that I am fighting the good fight with trying to influence attitudes and beliefs about the role of safety.

Andrew Sharman

Thanks lbromley – keep fighting the good fight!

Author Bio ▼

Andrew Sharman

Andrew is the CEO of RMS Switzerland, a global consultancy specialising in safety behaviour, culture and leadership. With offices in the UK, and Switzerland.  RMS has an enviable track record of improving culture and enabling excellence for NGOs and blue chip organisations around the world through industry sectors including aviation, automotive, mining, construction, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and FMCGs. Find out more at www.RMSswitzerland.com

Andrew is also Professor of Leadership & Safety Culture at the European Centre for Executive Development in Fontainebleau, France, and Professor of Risk Management at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.  He is a Chartered Fellow and Vice President of the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH); a Fellow of the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management; and a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership & Management.

Far from being risk-averse, he loves adventure sports including climbing, free flying, sea kayaking and swimming with sharks. He uses these pursuits to re-energise the language, perceptions and functions of safety and risk management and align the disciplines with broader organisational issues driving positive impact and enhancing the performance of individuals, teams and businesses.

Read Andrew’s New Rules of Safety series on SHP here.

Andrew’s book From Accidents to Zero is one of the fastest-selling books on safety culture of the 21st  century, find out more at www.fromaccidentstozero.com and enter code SHP 25 to receive an exclusive 25% discount for SHPonline readers.

November 23, 2017

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