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August 27, 2008

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Workers reluctant to go public on employers’ health and safety rule-breaking

Most people in the UK’s workplaces would look out for a colleague by reporting any risks to their health or safety to a line manager or supervisor, but it seems self-preservation kicks in when it comes to taking it any further.

A YouGov poll commissioned by IOSH earlier this year found that only 28 per cent of the 1332 employees questioned across the UK would report their employer to the HSE if they felt it was in breach of health and safety legislation. According to IOSH president, Ray Hurst, this could suggest loyalty to their employer but it’s “more likely that they are scared of the consequences if they get found out having told”.

He said: “Blowing the whistle on employers isn’t something you do lightly, but if your employer won’t act, and you’re genuinely concerned for your own or others’ safety, it’s certainly not something you should be afraid of doing.”

People were less reticent about reporting a line manager or supervisor to the boss if they felt there was a risk they or a colleague could get hurt at work — 35 per cent said they would take this action in such a case. And 74 per cent said they would approach their line manager or supervisor to report perceived health and safety risks to themselves, or colleagues.

Added Ray: “It does seem fairly clear that most people trust their line manager or supervisor to sort out health and safety problems for them. That’s why it’s imperative managers understand health and safety, and have the authority to deal with potential hazards.”

The IOSH survey findings concur with the results of similar research carried out last year by Public Concern at Work (PCAW), which raises awareness of the key role whistleblowing can play in anticipating and avoiding serious risks that arise in and from the workplace. The charity was instrumental in getting the Public Information Disclosure Act 1998 on to the statute book but says it is not all about having the protection of the law.

A spokesperson told SHP: “Legislation is a remedy when things go wrong — what is really important is the culture of organisations. PCAW has recently, in association with British Standards, published a code of practice on whistleblowing arrangements, which organisations can use as a useful tool to help them get whistleblowing right, and ensure their staff can act as an early warning system.”

The code, PAS 1998/2008, can be downloaded free of charge from the Public Concern at Work website by clicking here

The results of this and a second survey carried out by YouGov for IOSH have been published in a document entitled ‘Your job, your life: what people really think about health and safety’, which will be available to download from shortly.

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