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April 6, 2016

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Engaging is the key to retaining

Nigel Crunden, business specialist at Office Depot, explains how making health and safety relevant and engaging seems to be the key to reducing injuries at work and saving businesses money.

Injuries at work cost UK employers an estimated £14.3 billion each year, despite most businesses having a comprehensive health and safety programme in place, according to figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

In some cases, making workplace health and safety a more engaging and relevant topic seems to be the missing link. A general appreciation of it among staff is assumed, but it is only by reinforcing the consequences of not taking key measures that it becomes more relevant to them as individuals. This requires a commitment from an organisation to invest time and even money in making sure that staff readily recognise the relevance of health and safety to their wellbeing.

Stronger together

A shared approach to the topic should be an overarching theme, with staff, management and even elected health and safety representatives being regularly briefed on updates to policies or changes in approach at regular junctures – every six months for example. Hand-in-hand with this should come a focus on inclusion by implementing initiatives that draw in the workforce and engage them in the potential outcomes of individual courses of action.

Individual responsibility for worker safety

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents advocates that staff should be encouraged to generate ideas during health and safety initiatives. A clear endorsement therefore is that engaging staff as individuals instead of just a volume of people is vital.

An example of where this clearly applies is in the area of fire safety training; the 2005 Fire Safety Order places a legal duty on employers – and not the fire service – to ensure that all building occupants are evacuated safely in the event of a fire.

Creating a robust evacuation plan to meet this requirement is all well and good, however without circulating it and consulting with staff to ensure they fully understand the process to follow, the risk of injury or even death increases significantly if a fire were to occur. A further aspect of this process that cannot be ignored is the personal planning of how to evacuate those with mobility problems, for which there are a range of solutions, including specialist chairs to assist in the descent of stairs.

Other areas of health and safety awareness that require buy-in and the full appreciation of the workforce include the management of sickness. Treating the spread of bacteria is something that not only saves businesses money but also helps in managing the cleaning regime of the workplace, where it is essential that all areas are properly disinfected to prevent the spread of germs.

Achieving this not only requires a strict policy stipulating that workers  remain at home when ill, but a comprehensive approach to cleaning and sanitising the workplace, ensuring it is not a root cause of illness among staff.

External help

Remaining engaged in a non-operational area of work like health and safety can be challenging for staff, so businesses should not be adverse to enlisting experts from a range of organisations to come and provide talks and workshops on, for example, accident prevention or fire safety.

It may be that this is done in conjunction with an elected health and safety ambassador from within the workforce as familiarity with that individual can help trigger greater engagement in the topic. The use of visual aids, workshops and scenario setting all help bring outcomes or consequences to light that simply might not have occurred to many people. Encouraging feedback and discussion throughout is therefore essential as it is only implementing regular communication that key information is properly retained.

To reward or not?

Some organisations do reward their staff for proven health and safety compliance, but this is not always possible or appropriate. It only tends to take place in non-office based environments such as manufacturing plants, where adherence can literally be a life or death matter.  Within more corporate settings, it is more advisable to use engagement tools and staff inclusion as a route to improving understanding.

Also, unless the specific environment dictates it (and office space does not), it is more appropriate to use better understanding as a way of facilitating adherence. This then removes the risk of staff becoming disinterested if they don’t receive a reward.

Don’t become complacent

Despite the corporate world being a hectic and pressured space, this is no reason to de-prioritise the reinforcement of health and safety practice. The fast-paced nature of working life should actually be more of a reason to ensure this is part and parcel of working life, not simply an add-on that most people presume they fully understand.

Leaving this to chance can be costly for individuals and businesses meaning that prevention is therefore the best course of action. So by taking steps now, business owners, facilities managers (FMs) and health and safety representatives alike are more likely to safeguard the future of their workforce and operations.

Nigel Crunden, business specialist at Office Depot.

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