Perceptions of Health & Safety Are Not What You Think…

30th June 2020

Gone are the days where the Health & Safety professional took control of health and safety.  We are no longer walking around with a clip board and checklist watching over tasks and tutting when we see something is wrong.  We are now collaborators, communicators, facilitators and a source of competent advice.  Of course, that’s how we always should have been, but I certainly don’t remember my first years of working in H&S in that way.

We used to be called the “Safety Police”, the workforce would think (and say) “here we go again” when they saw us coming and that just isn’t the way to engage with anyone.  Engaging with people should be satisfying, learning something new, asking how people are with the knowledge and understanding that we want work to be enjoyable and we rarely set out to be purposefully unsafe.

But still, here at Broadhead Global, we are concerned that H&S is still seen negatively.  So earlier this year we asked you to complete a 1-minute survey asking this question – how does it make you feel to be told you are accountable for Health & Safety? – and we had some very interesting feedback.

Senior Leaders: “Accountable, Responsible, Proud, Trusted”

The data identified that over two thirds of senior leaders had a sense of positive responsibility towards being accountable for H&S, whilst, at the same time, great trepidation regarding sufficient knowledge and a fear of letting people down.  This highlighted that senior leaders fully appreciated that they were accountable, but also felt a moral duty towards their workforce and cared about them.  We received comments such as ‘a great feeling of responsibility’, ‘proud, positive and trusted’ and ‘as a leader it’s my job to keep people safe’.

What they required was the knowledge to take this forward and do their best through competent advice.

Much in the same way, the manager level responses believed they lacked the knowledge and felt daunted by it, but unlike the positive slant the senior leaders had, over half of the managers put a more negative feeling towards the term with comments such as ‘under qualified’ and ‘daunted’.  However, those who took the term in a positive way felt ‘empowered’, ‘trusted’ and ‘a sense of pride’.

The H&S professionals had negative feeling towards the term of accountability as they understood their role was to the support the senior leaders and they would be annoyed or pressurised to step into the ‘accountable’ role with comments such as ‘trying to offload their responsibility’ and ‘where is my support?’.

Overall, there was a sense that Health & Safety was everyone’s responsibility and to achieve that, there was a desire for competent support and trust.  That’s why we believe it is so important for the health and safety professionals, not only to be competent, but also understand how to communicate with the people they are supporting and facilitate conversations in a positive and demonstrable way to highlight where safety may be improved.  We would love to see the day where health and safety didn’t elicit extreme opinions, and where we all worked together to deliver it through leadership, facilitation and team work.

At Broadhead Global we work with Senior Leaders to increase their knowledge and understanding for leading in Health & Safety. To help these Leaders work at their best, we also review behaviours and the culture within an organisation. For more information, please contact us.


Written by Sarah Prince


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