Jennifer Webster, Occupational Psychologist, explains why – despite what we might think – health and safety at work really isn’t ‘someone else’s problem’ and how a robust organisational safety culture can reduce risk for everyone.
Think about the last time you went for a job interview. What was it that first attracted you to apply for the job? My guess is that pay and conditions played a key part in your decision-making. You might even have been attracted by the company’s reputation and, all things considered, you probably felt that the package offered by the company would be a good fit with your own values and beliefs.
Now, imagine that, at some point in the interview, you’d been told that if you accepted the job your safety could never be guaranteed. And what’s more, that in the course of your employment it was highly likely that your health and/or wellbeing would be seriously compromised.
Would you have taken a gamble and gone with the job or would you have walked away?
After the initial surprise you probably would have still taken that job. Because like most people, unless a job is known to be high risk, why would you think that the unthinkable could ever happen to you?
Unfortunately, as the Health and Safety Executive’s statistics  show it can and it does. During 2015 – 2016, 144 workers were killed and 1.3 million working people suffered from a work-related illness.
Yet, most of us still regard health and safety as ‘someone else’s problem’, not ours. When we’re weighing up the conditions of employment on offer we rarely stop to think about how our potential new employer manages health and safety, and whether there is a strong safety culture in place that can reduce the probability of the unthinkable happening to us.
So how do you go from being an organisation that only bothers with health and safety when something bad happens to one where good health and safety is just “the way we do things around here?”
Like Rome, a strong safety culture is not built in a day so changes need to be made a step at a time. Your best first step is to get ‘buy-in’ from your business leaders or senior management. As you’ll be going through what is essentially a change programme they’ll need to be fully committed to the long-haul. That will require education and persuasion. They may have walked past your Health and Safety at Work Act poster on many occasions but never actually read it. Make them aware of their legal responsibilities. Help them understand how influential they are in promoting health and safety. Sell the business benefits. It will be worth it in the end.
And, because one of the key elements of a strong health and safety culture is trust, think about whether you need to introduce some form of communications training and team-building. If you aspire to become the employer of choice, it really isn’t a good idea to let your people gamble with their lives.
 Health and Safety Executive – Health and Safety Statistics 2015/2016 accessed from www.hse.gov.uk/statistics
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