Risk and compliance in H&S: lead with rules or behavioural change?

By foxrobins

November 11, 2016

People in power talk about change. Within the Health and Safety industry, they set goals to change for the better, but are these changes always carried out in the right way, and is it really the public that needs to change?

There is a question of how best to enforce health and safety changes. Should they be enforced or just advised? There is definitely a balance to be made between forcing people to follow the rules and advising them of what is best for their own well-being. The HSE has always had the goal of changing public opinion. In the past, there was a struggle to make people see that the risks involved within the workplace could be greatly reduced. There was a community wide feeling of acceptance in the face of disaster. However, today people are much more aware of their rights, so much so there is a growing demand for accountability when something goes wrong. With the media giving more coverage to high profile incidents, and the industry, there is a tendency for companies to become over enthusiastic in order to protect themselves rather than their employees. There is a thin line between doing too much and not doing enough.

In 2010 the Health and Safety Commission created a campaign to encourage employers to commit themselves to ensuring their working environments were safe. This strategy, ‘The Health and Safety of Great Britain\\ Be part of the solution’ asks organisations to show their commitment to the health and safety cause by pledging to play their part. This campaign relied on behavioural change in employers rather than the enforcement of rules. A forum was created that allowed pledgees to share ideas and advice for improving health and safety. Inspiring employers to help themselves and their peers give hope to a future where attitudes towards health and safety are positive and pro-active, therefore the safety ‘rules’ become a natural part of working life rather than something to be enforced.

Looking back through the history of health and safety, it is a sad but true fact that most advancement has been driven by huge catastrophes. The behavioural changes needed to keep workplaces safe are in most cases only a result of the huge emotional disruption. This poses the question of whether we can afford to wait for behaviours to change naturally or is it necessary to forcefully impose safety rules to prevent such disasters. Fortunately, health and safety companies have learnt many lessons from the past. These companies continue to learn, through real situations as well as hypothetical ones, an example being New Orleans’s reactions to Hurricane Katrina. Post Katrina, many aspects of safety have been evaluated and improved, from flood defences to how people build houses, much more effort is being put into the need for safety and the protection of the people.

Having plans in place before disaster strikes are vital, whether just for small issues or huge problems. Everything, within businesses especially, has its effect and counter effects on staff, clients and customers, therefore having a strong health and safety system in place will minimise these negative effects.

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