Health and Safety – positive changes and future challenges

23rd March 2020

A few times recently, I’ve been asked what I see as the biggest positive changes in health and safety in the last five years – and it’s a curious question. It’s usually followed by another – what challenges do I expect to see emerging within the next five years?

So, to answer the first, these are my top three.

Positive Changes in Health and Safety 

1.     The emergence of broader health and wellbeing discussions across businesses.

2.     The recognition that soft skills and personal development are essential for health and safety professionals to succeed.

3.     The role of accountable leadership driving the success of organisations.

You may well reason that these aren’t necessarily new. But my raison d’être comes from experience of working with ambitious global corporations who are aspiring to perform at high levels – and seeing first-hand a growing top-down influential focus in each of these areas.

For me, there’s no doubt that health and wellbeing are now firm ‘agenda items’ for a growing number of companies. When I ask organisations at the start of our journey, ‘what proportion of your time, effort and resource are spent on ‘Safety as opposed to Health’ it’s rare to get an answer where more than 5% of resources are spent on Health. Within some organisations though, this has fundamentally changed to a far healthier balance of health, safety and wellbeing.

Secondly, a very healthy and widely applauded debate has emerged – the role of soft skills and emotional intelligence in creating highly effective health and safety professionals and workers in general. This is one of those areas where binary thinking isn’t at all helpful. Which set of skills is most important – soft skills or technical skills? To me, they’re equally important. I’ve seen strong and confident communicators with poor knowledge and experience who confuse and distract their organisations as much as I’ve seen technically sound colleagues utterly fail to engage, coach and support their leaders and colleagues.

Number three on my list, is the role of leaders which has changed – and continues to change. The desire of organisations to develop their senior teams as clear role models for health and safety is now very well established. There are far fewer organisations who think health and safety is still the primarily responsibility of the health and safety officer and you can clearly see this in their performance.

For me, these are areas where I’ve seen first-hand transformational change across organisations. Our Broadly Thinking approach has created both impact and momentum for our global clients, across all of these themes.

So, to answer the second question to do with emerging challenges in the coming years, I see these three as utterly essential for success.

Emerging Challenges in Health and Safety

1.     Developing clear and simple plans for improvement.

2.     A stronger focus on performance as opposed to results.

3.     Clear consideration of the core risks to your organisation.

Is there anything new in all of this, you might ask for the second time? Well, even if the topics aren’t new to you, the required level of output or impact, may well be.

The first is this. With most companies we work with, there’s rarely a simple and clearly stated strategy in place that sets out what their health and safety would look like, let’s say, in five years’ time. More specifically, there isn’t a year-on-year improvement plan linked to employees’ personal objectives and development. Without this – structured, impactful and sustainable progress simply isn’t achievable.

Performance versus results – well, in my opinion, the health and safety profession along with many organisations that it supports, are being seriously hoodwinked by the reactive results they’re using, to judge their progress. If results are ultimately the outputs from our activities to improve health and safety, then our performance must be the quality – and therefore the impact of those activities. For example, when somebody tells me that their Lost Time Injury Rate has reduced by 30%, I’m genuinely delighted that less people have been hurt. My immediate follow up question is this: ‘so what’s your performance like?’. Oddly, we have little data or insights to answer this question. It appears we’re ready to accept that low incidents signify ‘safe or becoming safer’ without having any ability to correlate that with day-to-day performance.

Finally, I think a vital area of focus has to be the level of risk management literacy in our organisations. It’s no longer acceptable to have an optimistic view about the role of ‘task level risk assessment’ in order to keep us all safe. In the first instance, we have to see risk at the enterprise and organisational level. Next, we have to see them as a set of core risks specific to health and safety. And finally, we need to harmonise that with the more task-based risk assessments we’re more used to.

So, there’s been some huge strides in health, safety and well-being in the last half-decade and many more strides to make, in the next half. At Broadhead Global, our job is to help you become better today than you were yesterday – and better tomorrow than today. To find out more about our Broadly Thinking approach and how we can work with you to deliver transformational change across your organisation, please do get in touch.

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