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Improving Health and Safety Behaviour at Work

The 4 C’s are often referred to as a way of understanding what needs to be done to promote a positive Health and Safety culture at work.

CONTROL / COOPERATION / COMPETENCE / COMMUNICATION

Control

Methods of control include:

Benchmarking the expected standards so that it is clear to everyone what level is expected. These standards of course need to be realistic and not conflict with expected performance targets. I can give an example to demonstrate:

A factory conveyor is set to a certain speed that allows for large bags of powder to travel to the end where a packer has to lift twist and turn to put on a pallet. The workers are on bonus pay so the more they move the more they earn. Health & Safety then sets a rule in place that every half hour a 5 minute break must be taken which means less is moved and bonus payments are reduced. This alone has a negative impact on the workers attitude to Health & Safety but it also can result in the workers deciding to speed up the conveyor which in turn leads to even more strain and pressure from manual handling. The more than steady rate could also lead to poor technique of lifting and potential injury. In this case Health & safety which is designed to protect the workers can cause extra strain simply because consideration to organisational performance indictors has been taken into account. The point here is that attitude to safety is affected and behaviour can change in a negative way.

Incentives are good for business and its important to consider the impact the decision of the breaks also has on the company and its production. If, like many there is a JIT (Just In Time) Manufacturing system in place the knock on effect of reduced production are likely going to be significant whether it be on other departments relying on ‘X’ amount of powder bags to arrive on time OR indeed the customer. Imagine that by the end of the day the wagon turns up to collect and the order isn’t ready due to the breaks put in place.

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You can probably start to imagine the amount of conflict that these regular breaks can start to have now with not just employees but also the management.

This is where 2 of the other C’s are important – Communication and Cooperation. The above situation requires everyone to be involved for consultation. If a positive culture is to be encouraged then engagement with the workers is essential. So Management, health and safety  and the employees can come together to discuss and come to a reasonable compromise enabling cooperation and this leads us to another method of control which is to gain the commitment of workers to agree to health and safety objectives. One of the ways this can be done is to allocate responsibilities to line managers and health and safety specialists but also to encourage workers as health & safety representatives to actively contribute. Having all levels of the organisational structure involved means commitment is more likely and this includes appointing senior managers to implement the controls and monitor them.

Cooperation

This is of course key to a positive culture. Without cooperation from everyone there is more likelihood of negativity towards health and safety. As above, engagement and involvement is paramount to full cooperation. Knowledge and sharing of information such as losses and lessons learned and having an open, honest no blame culture goes a long way to promoting mutual trust and a positive attitude.

Example: A machine is due a belt replacement and the supervisor misses it on the schedule that day and hands over to the night shift, the Supervisor realises later and knows they will be in trouble for missing this and so decides to replace the belt first thing in the morning, whats the worse that could happen? The machine is in continuous use for production and the belt snaps during the night shift injuring the line operative.

If a positive culture for health and safety is in place then the Supervisor is more likely to call immediately and advise the machine to be stopped and the belt replaced. The real key to encouraging this would be to look at how the maintenance was missed and what can be done to ensure it didn’t happen again, but also to make sure the Supervisor understands why it is important to maintain equipment on schedule. Give someone a task to do and it will get done at some point but explain the importance of the task and the reasons behind it and you are more likely to have cooperation for its prompt undertaking. Moreover there should also have been safe systems in place to protect the operative in case of faults such as adequate guarding and so a no blame culture is a positive step towards improving health and safety behaviour at work.

Competence

Competence at different levels may sound obvious but competence at what? How do we measure competence? Well for a start we should look at the tasks within the operations and assess what knowledge and skill is needed to undertake the task safely. Without doing this you cannot assess who is competent to complete the tasks and who has a skills gap. This includes of course Health and Safety, you must have a competent person responsible as per the requirements set out in the Management at Work Regulations 1999.

Having the resources in place to ensure all workers are suitably trained in what they do and in Health and safety and particularly providing full training to those who undertake high risk tasks is also needed. This should include access to information, guidance and advice for everyone. Health and safety should not be assumed as common sense and consideration must also be taken for the diversity of an organisation, age, gender, disabilities, culture, language etc.

Communication

Finally the large subject area of communication which should encompass consultation and engagement so that communication is 2 way. Communication and methods of is a whole subject area in itself and this will be addressed in another blog. Consider a health & safety policy that you request all employees and contractors to read and sign, is this sufficient? What about risk assessments, are they written and filed away? are they communicated to appropriate workers and if so is this adequate?

So consider the diversity for example of a large employer, the young, visually impaired, dyslexia or learning difficulties, English as a second language…… now think again if current communication methods are sufficient? Probably not. Ensuring that everyone ‘understands’ what has been put in place and why through training and use of various types of media is much more likely to have a positive impact. I am currently studying the NEBOSH National Certificate and I have read several pages with only about 20% sinking in. The four C’s was something I read and understood but probably wouldn’t recall so I set myself the task to apply it in real terms so I could understand it fully. I talked it through with a Health & Safety Professional (luckily married to one) and then I wrote about it – which you are now reading. I basically undertook a training session on it setting the learning outcomes myself along with an assignment and took responsibility for my own development. We unfortunately cannot rely on all employees to do this and it is for therefore important to understand how training and discussion can make a difference to safe behaviour in the work place.

You will probably see a fair bit of crossover between the 4C’s and so you should. All 4 need to be in place for improvements to be realised. I would appreciate any comments and your own thoughts on the above, maybe you have examples to share.

C Watson

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