Spread the safety culture
12 November 2013
Roger Bibbings, occupational safety adviser at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) examines how spreading safety culture beyond the workplace can have a positive effect on public health.
David Cameron has been quick to focus on the alleged scale of problems caused by health and safety over-zealousness and has alleged that "good, straightforward legislation designed to protect people from major hazards has been extended inappropriately to cover every walk of life, no matter how low risk”.
His underlying message has been that in many areas, excessive action on health and safety grounds has been adding to cost, wasting time and creating bureaucracy, with an underlying assertion that the culture of safety developed at work is somehow leaking out into the community and causing disruption.
I would like to examine this more closely, particularly as RoSPA is campaigning to get accident prevention in the community fully accepted as a key priority in the Government’s plans to reorganise public health in England.
Obviously, the most fundamental contribution which workplace safety makes to public health is the protection from accidents and health damage of the 30million or so citizens who make up the national workforce. However, workplace health and safety also makes contributions to the safety of the population in many other ways, most of which are imperceptible.
Firstly, there is the wider impact of workplace health and safety culture on people’s safety understanding and behaviour outside the workplace. Engaging employees at work through consultation, training, behavioural safety programmes and so on is likely to make them more safety conscious in other domains, including on the road, at home and during leisure pursuits.
There ought to be evidence to show that safety awareness-raising and driver training provided by organisations as part of their Managing Occupational Road Risk programmes helps to create safer behaviours among employees outside working hours - and it may also influence indirectly the road safety attitudes of their family members too.
Teaching young people at the workplace about health and safety is more likely to encourage positive attitudes towards safety in other areas of their life. This is especially important when you consider data from the Office of National Statistics, which suggests that, on average, employees experience three to four times as many A&E level injuries outside work as they do in working time.
When people are at work, they are a captive audience, so forward-thinking employers may also want to encourage staff to participate in talks by external community-based safety personnel. In RoSPA’s Safer motorcycling through work guidance, for example, we encourages companies to invite motorcycle trainers and police Bikesafe assessors onto site to engage with workers who ride motorbikes.
Several employers have followed the path set years ago by Dupont, which encourages employees to share home and leisure accident experiences with colleagues and disseminate information to staff on issues like home and DIY safety. Many employers even encourage staff to take home and use work-related personal protective equipment such as eye protection and safety footwear.
Looking more generally at the contribution which occupational safety can make to injury prevention, there is greater scope to extend the safety science that has been developed in a workplace context. Take, for example, much of the groundbreaking science developed by the Government’s Health and Safety Laboratory that has informed slip and trip reduction programmes in industry (micro-surface roughness, cleaning and maintenance regimes, footwear/floor combinations and step design). This has a major contribution to make in falls prevention programmes for care homes and public spaces.
Meanwhile, with an increasing focus on corporate social responsibility, RoSPA is very keen to encourage more companies to see how they can extend their values and safety influence to make a very significant contribution in helping to build ‘safer communities’, a concept that originated in Canada and which has been refined by the World Health Organisation. Besides sponsoring LASER (Learning About Safety by Experiencing Risk) schemes, several major companies (particularly in the rail, utilities, nuclear, chemical, minerals and construction sectors) run extensive safety programmes in schools. We want more to follow their example.
It remains a RoSPA aspiration to create a resource to encourage, study and evaluate initiatives by employers in this whole field, which we believe will have great potential to spread the effect of positive workplace safety culture more widely.
We see the safety domains of home, school and work as necessarily interconnected - although much has yet to be done to fully understand and exploit these links, including by breaking down barriers between various kinds of safety professionals, sharing perspectives/experiences and creating new synergies. Far from undermining our society, spreading safety culture beyond the workplace has great potential to make Britain even safer and even stronger.