In our last post we put corporate governance in the spotlight and started to explore whether or not British companies are taking health and safety seriously enough at board level. Two very interesting branches came out of that post.
Firstly, does the current state of corporate governance explain why the fatality rate for employees is higher than that for contractors (when you exclude the agriculture sector from the HSE statistics) or is that more of a Dekker/Heinrich type debate? Perhaps, they’re two sides of the same coin? This is something we’ll come back to later in the month – subscribe at the bottom of the page to make sure you get an email notification in your inbox.
The second area was, do health and safety professionals get the support they need from their managers? If corporate governance as it relates to health and safety is lacking then who burdens the load?
Too often in the UK, companies treat health and safety as an operational issue rather than an essential strategic one. There are many reasons for this:
• Senior managers regard health and safety as a compliance box ticking exercise
• Directors and senior managers don’t fully understand the risks the company faces in relation to health and safety
• Directors and senior managers do not have sufficient knowledge or skills in health and safety
• Business pressures force senior managers to look for efficiencies in the business, with health and safety being one of the areas where cuts are often identified.
What impact does this have on the role of the health and safety professional?
Stress, Depression, and Anxiety
Health and safety professionals are as susceptible to suffering from stress, depression, and anxiety as any other worker in an organisation. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says some of the main causes of stress for workers in the UK are a lack of managerial support and increasing workload pressures.
It stands to reason, therefore, that when senior management doesn’t fully support the health and safety professional, stress can and does follow. ‘Not fully supporting’ includes not providing the policies, procedures and tools required to create a culture of health and safety right across the organisation. Simply increasing the burden while cheering from the sidelines is not providing full support.
As far back as 2010, 60% of health and safety professionals said their levels of stress were increasing and, in the TUC biennial survey of safety reps 2016, 70% cited stress as a top 5 hazard in the workplace ranking it overall as the most prevalent. The TUC results represent what the safety reps think is happening in their organisation but undoubtedly they represent a degree of self reflection.
This is a real problem and its importance should not be underestimated. After all, in most cases, the stress that health and safety professionals feel is often only indirectly related to making their own life easier. Instead, much of the burden they feel concerns the protection of the workers they are responsible for. When their employers do not support them in these efforts, stress follows.
In other words, company directors and senior managers should look at this from the perspective of the health and safety professional as well as from the perspective of their company:
• Senior management has a duty of care to the health and wellbeing of the health and safety professional as, according to the HSE, everyone in a company is responsible for tackling work related stress. In other words, work related stress is a leadership and strategic issue, not a simple operational one.
• From the company perspective, the practices and tools that health and safety professionals try to implement are for the company’s good. Intentionally or unintentionally placing barriers in front of them without carefully considering the strategic consequences can be costly.
So, what should be done? A good starting point is to understand the changing role of the health and safety professional.
The Life of a Modern-Day Health and Safety Professional
Health and safety professionals now have more responsibilities than ever before. Changes in technology, new regulations, changing business practices, and growing business pressures are all causing these responsibilities to increase.
For example, home working is now a common trend in many companies. This gives the worker flexibility, plus it can improve productivity. For the health and safety professional, however, home working adds complexity to what they do. After all, they are still responsible for reducing the risk of musculoskeletal problems and other workplace hazards, wherever the employee works from. Plus, are the employees always open to help and input in this situation? Not always, that’s for sure.
What Management Should Do?
The starting point is to take a more strategic view of health and safety. Companies benefit when health and safety becomes an ingrained culture within the business rather than the responsibility of a single individual or small team.
Also, there needs to be investment, particularly in innovative new technology. Technology reduces the stress on health and safety professionals but it also reduces the risk companies face. e-permits is a great example of this, offering a guaranteed way to prevent avoidable incidents while simultaneously saving time and providing an audit trail for the business itself.
If you need help explaining why taking a strategic view of health and safety is good for the business as well as for you and all the employees you work to serve then please Contact Us and we would be more than happy to engage.