Take a positive view of health and safety for a change
Why do companies’ employees and management not always do what they are supposed to do – make the areas they work in safe and risk-free as required by legislation and to improve the work environment? Why do they take shortcuts that pose a safety or health risk?
This dilemma had been troubling Inge Le Grange for quite a while. So when the time came to choose a topic for her work-based challenge as part of her BCom studies through The Da Vinci Institute, it was a natural choice. The specific question she wanted to answer was: is the active participation of employees and management essential for maintaining an effective safety, health and environment (SHE) management system?
“I chose this topic because, in working with different clients, I’ve noticed that employees and management aren’t always as engaged as they could be about SHE management,” says Le Grange, a SHE consultant at Total Risk Advisory Consulting (TRAC). “When things are not done the way they should be done, all kinds of things can go wrong. I wanted to find out how I can convince people to do the right things.”
Le Grange started her work-based challenge by reading everything she could about human behaviour in relation to health and safety.
“I read information from all over the world… Europe, the United States, Australia… and it all talked about the importance of getting directors, line management and employees involved if you want to maintain an effective SHE system.”
From negative to positive
Next, Le Grange held in-depth interviews with TRAC colleagues working with various clients. These interviews revealed interesting insights about the way people tend to view SHE matters.
“Employees often worry about getting into trouble if they report a deviation from the standards, even if it’s very minor. That’s the backwards-looking view, which says, ‘you are wrong and will be punished’. We need to move to a forward-looking view where the focus is, ‘let’s fix it’. Reporting should be seen in a positive light and positive reinforcement needs to be introduced.”
An example is the so-called incident/non-conformance report that must be completed when there is any non-conformance with SHE standards, even a light bulb that needs replacing. When any deviation at all occurs, a report must be completed and investigation done.
Degrees of severity
“Something like a light not working is very small, and could be closed on the spot, without doing a whole investigation,” Le Grange says. “On the other hand, an incident or injury must always be fully investigated to see what caused the non-conformance. There are degrees of severity. I felt the reporting process could be simplified and streamlined to distinguish between the different degrees of severity.”
With this in mind, she designed two different templates, one for reporting very minor issues that can be dealt with immediately, and the other for SHE issues that warrant follow-up and investigation.
Separating the two types could help dispel the notion that SHE reporting goes hand in hand with “getting into trouble”. That could, in turn, encourage employees and management to take a more active approach towards SHE management.
Le Grange has received the green light from TRAC to implement recommendations from her work-based challenge. “The company did an audit in June 2017 and one of the audit findings was that my recommendations should be put into action for implementation!”
Although she has already completed and passed her challenge, she is still coming up with more ideas to turn negative SHE perceptions into positive ones. “Perhaps a gold-star system…,” she muses.
Watch this space.