Culture And Behaviours
Is our health & safety focus aimed at the wrong generation?
Subash Ludhra, Managing Director at Anntara Management Ltd and former IOSH President, discusses what effect a person’s upbringing can have on their perception of risk and how they go about their daily routine, and their work, later in life.
I have been in the risk management field for over 32 years and have had the privilege to have been able to work all over the world in most industry sectors. I do not claim to be a psychologist aor have any professional qualification in this subject and the following is based on my experiences and observations only. I will focus this article on situations where people choose to work in a particular way rather than where they are forced by their employer to take unreasonable risks.
I have often observed scenes where children are either taking or are being exposed to risks that we in the western world would not normally understand. In the photo below the father is transporting his three sons on a motorcycle on the busy streets of Ho Chi Min City (note that whilst he is wearing a helmet, the children are not).
As a result, I have often considered what impact this behaviour has on the children’s attitude to risk as they grow up and become adults. If a child grows up observing and participating in what we would consider to be unsafe behaviours, are they more or less likely to take risks and how will that manifest itself when they enter the world of work, especially if they migrate and work in a country with much higher expectations on H&S compliance?
There are millions of people working around the world who have grown up in environments where the attitude to risk is hugely different to what we would consider “normal”. Some of them could be working in your organisation.
Many workers from Eastern Europe have what I would call a can-do attitude to work and are often eager to keep work going even if it means taking unacceptable risk to achieve the goal. Again, is this as a result of their own observations / actions taken whilst growing up.
During a trip to Berlin in Germany, I was surprised to see so many locals (young and old) waiting at pedestrian crossings to cross the roads despite the roads being completely 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 also conforming to the local ways (was this peer pressure at work). I observed the same behaviour pattern some weeks later when I visited cities in Switzerland.
It occurred to me that whilst the law may prohibit the crossing of roads on a green 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. Parents in these counties had taught their children to cross safely and wait for the correct signals before crossing (even if there was no traffic present).
This got me thinking about how we have traditionally managed risk within the UK.
Our traditional models have placed emphasis on rules and prescription, but as Dame Judith Hackitt has 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 prevalent 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 intervention.
If we genuinely want to be proactive and improve the safety culture at work, are we approaching it in the wrong way (I fully appreciate that we do need to do something with our existing workforce), do we need to start focusing on future workers much earlier with better education from parents and schools. If we had all been educated in sensible risk awareness / management during childhood would we be more likely to work safely in later life.
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 has to be the ultimate goal. 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 business plan).
So much effort is put into behavioural safety programmes, where we are attempting to get individuals to change their mindset / learnt behaviour for an alternative safer way of working. But surely, we need to start with the messages parents and educators are giving in shaping mindsets pre work life.
Risk management is a fundamental life skill that many children have limited exposure to in their cosseted upbringings in modern developed countries. It should not be taught at work just in the context of health and safety.
Is now the time to lobby ministers to introduce the concept of risk management into the schools curriculum?
It will take years but the next generation of workers would be much safer and is that not our ultimate goal?
“I read with interest Subash Ludhra’s article ‘Is our health and safety focus aimed at the wrong generation?’ It struck a chord with my own line of thought. Having risk awareness needs to be something people have as part of who they are, not something we expect people to turn on once they get to work.
Read Joe Smith’s response, ‘People are not risk averse enough for our liking’, here.
Sleep and Fatigue: Director’s Briefing
Fatigue is common amongst the population, but particularly among those working abnormal hours, and can arise from excessive working time or poorly designed shift patterns. It is also related to workload, in that workers are more easily fatigued if their work is machine-paced, complex or monotonous.
This free director’s briefing contains:
- Key points;
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