There’s a growing awareness that business strategies must refer to and improve workplace safety issues. Organisations such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are encouraging employers not to confine safety to self-contained documents.
When employers regard safety as a separate matter, managers and staff may focus solely on strategies that emphasise profit and commercial success. These are the strategies that obtain orders, make money and save jobs. Employers may argue that in a competitive world such goals are what really matter. But stressing a concern for safety doesn’t have to hinder a business. On the contrary, it can enable a business to be more successful.
Employers should not simply add a paragraph or two about safety to existing business strategies, however. They should review their strategies from a safety perspective.
This is part of the thinking behind an HSE booklet, “A Strategy for Workplace Health and Safety in Great Britain to 2010 and beyond”. The HSE makes the point that safe working can act as a positive influence on growth, profits and employment. Businesses should therefore work to continuously improve safety in the workplace. The way to achieve this is twofold: introduce business strategies that improve safety, and give existing strategies a safety angle.
Employee engagement strengthens the positive emotional bond an employee has with his or her job. Such a strategy results in greater productivity, higher profits, a reduction in staff turnover, and enhanced customer service. It can also improve safety.
One example that proves this is the research undertaken at Molson Coors, a company that makes and distributes drinks. As part of the research, academics divided the employees into one of two categories. Employees who were committed to doing a good job and engaged with their work were in the first category. In the second category were employees who failed to engage with their work. The men and women in this latter category worked because they needed the money, and cared little for their employer beyond this.
The researchers studied these two groups of employees, and made a number of findings. One of these related to safety. The employees in the first category, those who engaged with their work, had far fewer workplace accidents than the employees in the second category. The employees in the first category also had far fewer accidents that were serious enough to warrant time off work.
This suggests that employees who care about their jobs, also care about their health and working environment. A business with a strategy of employee engagement can therefore improve safety levels, reduce employee sickness and save money.
Too often, communication strategies focus solely on issues such as customer service, staff appraisals, meetings and employee suggestion schemes. Safety is noticeable by its absence.
A good communications strategy, however, works hand-in-hand with employee engagement. It raises awareness of safety issues in the workplace.
Clearly communicated safety issues alert staff to workplace dangers. Posters and leaflets highlight these dangers. Communication about safety should also extend to daily contact between managers and staff. Managers, for example, should urge staff to report potential hazards. A workplace that maintains a friendly and communicative culture about safety reduces accidents.
Moreover, managers must not be defensive when employees raise safety concerns. They must listen to what staff say and take prompt action. Only then are staff willing to come forward with their health and safety worries.
Communication is a natural part of training. But according to the RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents), communication about training and safety doesn’t always extend beyond an employee’s initial induction.
A training strategy must refer to safety awareness throughout an employee’s career. It should help develop employees. And it should enable them to cope with new responsibilities, skills and workplace risks in a timely and effective way. The RoSPA maintains that a safety training strategy should be part of every organisation’s business planning.
Quality and Productivity
The European Commission has acknowledged its role in encouraging companies and government bodies to incorporate safety into their strategies. This recognition is the driving force behind a new initiative: Improving Quality and Productivity at Work.
The aim of the initiative is to cut the total number of accidents at work by a quarter during a five-year period. To help achieve this, the European Commission is helping small and medium-sized businesses to understand safety at work legislation. It is also helping them adopt and refine strategies that focus on safety.
The Commission believes that business development and operational strategies should stress the need for safety in the workplace. Furthermore, it encourages organisations that are reviewing their work and processes to reconsider all occupational health and safety issues.