Safety is a continuing Journey, not a final destination

Gemma Collins Doyle

Gemma Collins Doyle

For most of us who work in the health and safety area, we know this only too well. The process of creating a safe and healthy workplace for everyone can take a long time. Once you have started this process, it becomes a journey and not a final destination. Nothing is static, nothing stays the same, and safety management is no different.

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“It’s so dangerous to presume other people have it figured out when they’re still, as we mentioned, just humans.”

Why can’t I just tick the box on health and safety and move on?

Some employers wonder why they have to spend so much time on safety, they want to carry out the safety statement, put it in a folder and forget about it. This to me is the biggest waste of money. Creating your safety statement is just the first step in your company’s safety journey. It’s the foundation, yes, but it is not the whole building.

We are human, we think, we act, we change, management changes, employees leave, risks are reduced or increased, training needs to be redone, the list goes on. When you commit to investing in Health and Safety within your company, then be prepared to incorporate it into every aspect of your business…………..forever.

Over the last few years, many companies have become fixated on the figures. However, a focus only on outcome attitude can gloss over the behind the scenes work and daily commitment that go towards an excellent safety record.

That is why it is so important to shift the attention away from numbers and outcomes (destination) back to the efforts behind them (journey). Figures will always be important and they are required, but it is important to think of health and safety in a more holistic way, continuous rather than static.
We should focus on the safety process and reinforce the daily commitment that true workplace safety demands.

So here are some examples of how you can invest daily in safety and of the behaviours:

  • H&S at the top of every meeting agenda
  • Safety leaders and safety committees work together with employees to manage current procedures, training, area audits, safety observations and safety improvements.
  •  Involve all employees.
  • Follow through on commitments, if you can’t follow through, then explain why not.
  • Create cross-functional teams (a mix of employees from R&D, Engineering, Production and Safety & Environmental, for example) meet regularly to identify potential issues early before problems arise.
  • Ensure there is an open channel for communication.
  • All managers (including senior) must lead by example.

Focusing on safety effort rather than safety record can be more powerful in driving a positive safety culture in a company.

Setting Goals

So, we know that safety is not a destination, but it is important to set goals along the way and even more important to take stock of how far you have come. Speaking from experience, it is easy to get caught up in looking at everything that needs to be done and hasn’t been, rather than looking at the bigger picture and acknowledging your achievements so far.

If you are a company that is just coming to terms with the reality of health and safety, then it is critical that you carry out a gap analysis; this will be your blueprint going forward and will become your go-to document for setting your priority list.

If you are already a company that has invested in health and safety, but you need to re-invent your safety management programme, then it is advisable that you make a plan for the year ahead. What achievements do you want for health and safety? What are your critical areas? How can you get more people involved? Is there a standard or award that you would like the company to strive towards? What has worked or not worked in the past?

You go to work, be it in the office, on-site, in the car, and you will spend the day interacting with human beings. It might be on the phone, it might be sitting behind them in traffic, or it might be dealing with machinery that was designed & built by another person. There’s no working life without humans.

And that’s the first step. Remember, they’re all humans. Everyone you interact with has concerns, they have stress, they have family problems. They’re not perfect, they’re so far from it. Every time someone is late replying to an email or gets your order in a restaurant wrong, remember they’re human. We all make mistakes.

The Journey to Safety Excellence

Maintaining a safe workplace is a never-ending journey, not a destination and managing safety is continuous. Without setting your goal and following a road-map, your safety management will just float along and not achieve much and of course, will not be effective. The journey is a quest for continuous improvement and a safeguard to the trap of complacency. It helps to answer key questions:

  • Where are you presently?
  • Where do you want to be and by when?
  • How do you currently manage and measure your progress?
  • How are you going to move forward?

Using the following four pillars will help you create a robust health and safety management system:

  • Leadership and engagement
  • Safety Management systems
  • Risk Reduction
  • Performance Measurements

The above discussion, of course, has only scratched the surface of this broad topic, hopefully, the one thing you take away is that safety is a journey, not a destination. 

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