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Keeping it real
23 January 2013
I was amused and slightly surprised this month when a health & safety specialist who I started to follow on Twitter responded by thanking me for doing so and telling me to: â€œBig up my bad self for following.â€ It's not the kind of language that I often experience during my working day and equally isn't the kind of language that many would associate with health & safety.
In which case, what is? A straw poll of colleagues offered: â€œcomplicated,â€ â€œtechnicalâ€ and â€œbureaucratic.â€ While not an exhaustive survey it is likely these views are commonly held. Which is why it's good that there are efforts being made to address this. For example one of the aims of Safety Groups UK (see page 42) is to make health & safety more accessible to SMEs through its use of straightforward language. Because many SMEs don't have in-house safety expertise, the Safety Groups suggest discussing "Musculotskeletal Disorders" and "Respiratory Protection" for example could make these organisations think they lack the know-how to tackle these issues. However speak to SMEs about making sure staff can "breathe safely" or about "preventing back painâ€ or â€œmuscle painâ€ and so on and they are more likely to engage in the discussion. Given that around 70% of people in the UK now work for SMEs and they are the most difficult workplaces to reach, this is vital work.
In a similar vein the HSE is also striving to simplify the health & safety message, with its initiative Health and Safety Made Simple. As HSE Chair Judith Hackitt explains in her column on the campaign on page 8, one of the instigators for this has been that over the years less scrupulous health & safety consultants have been guilty of overcomplicating the issue of health & safety. And in these cases language has most likely been used to exclude, rather than to communicate; so no doubt some organisations have felt that health & safety is a subject they can only access through their bank accounts. But Judith notes: â€œA commonsense and proportionate approach is what is needed, not endless paperwork or bureaucracy,â€ adding that at the end of the day: â€œGood health and safety is not rocket science.â€ So keeping messages simple, relevant and positive are key.
And for anyone thinking about how to engage staff in health & safety, it is worth taking heed of the comments of Ken Smith of consultancy service provider Arc Associates who, in his presentation Safety is a "Can Do Business" at the recent Health & Safety Scotland Show, suggested it is worth: â€œTalking to staff about health & safety positively every day because at least these days people want to do health & safety."
Adding:â€œFifteen years ago holding a health & safety briefing felt like having fifteen hostages in a portacabin.â€
Stay safe - in every sense of the word.
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