“The biggest positive impact on safety can be achieved by looking towards behavioural and cultural change within a business. Only by looking beyond compliance to see the bigger picture can we recognise that our people REALLY are our greatest assets, not paperwork”. Dr Carolyn Yeoman, a health and safety professional who recently moved to Australia from the UK recently spoke with WSP Insights about her many years experience working in health and safety in the UK and what she sees Australian Businesses can take away from the UK experience.
In Dr Yeomans opinion the problems encountered in the UK were not caused by the Health and Safety regulations themselves but how they were interpreted and applied. “There has been a strong emphasis on systems, procedures and risk assessments”, but many employers are producing (and in many cases paying for) “lengthy documents covering every conceivable risk, sometimes at the expense of controlling the significant risks in their workplace”.
“The requirement to carry out a risk assessment has turned into a bureaucratic nightmare for some businesses,” Yeoman says. With many businesses going beyond regulatory requirements and keeping extensive records in case of litigation. As a result of the focus on paperwork a key element of health and safety management is often overlooked, the ‘people factor’
With the threat of potential civil action from employees, contractors and sometimes members of the public, being sued becomes a key driver for many businesses to go beyond regulatory requirements. “As the ‘compensation culture’ in the UK has grown, employers have been advised to keep extensive of records in case of litigation. This leads to an even greater emphasis on generating paperwork for every possible risk”.
“There have been instances where regulations designed to address real risks have extended to cover trivial ones, resulting in negative media hype”.
In her report Dr Yeoman went on to speak about ‘safety waves’ where busineses implement a cycle of small controls and improvements which result in small reductions of incidents and small increases in reported incidents. Many businesses stop here, particularly legislation driven organisations, failing to address the underlying behavioural and cultural safety issues. The result is the production of vast quantities of paperwork and tick box sheets.
As a result of the focus on paperwork, what has often been missing from health and safety management systems is the ‘people factor’. Promoting safe behaviour at work is critical to the management of health and safety.
Dr Yoemans full report can be viewed here.