Plan, do, check and act
Companies which truly embrace a comprehensive health and safety approach will see communication improving, worker participation and sickness absence/incident rates reduce.
At the start of a programme,leaders often speak of their concern that they feel ill-equipped to navigate their way through the labyrinth of legislation for which they are responsible. By the end, they feel a greater sense of control, and gain the confidence to build their business knowing their safety arrangements are robust.
At the end of 2013, the HSE revised its guidance HSG65[i]. We also advise business leaders to refer to guidance published by the Institue of Directors INDG417[ii] which is a short leaflet including case studies on how to manage safely. Both are practical, well written guides that all leaders should be familiar with.
Both documents describe the “Plan, Do, Check, Act” approach to creating a safety management system, but what does this mean in practice?
The first step is to choose to make a change. Many companies comment “safety is our number 1 priority” but, if in reality, the board has mixed perceptions about the value of implementing a robust new process, this will filter through the company and change will be difficult. A strong sense of personal responsibility throughout the organisation must be encouraged, and this has to start with the directors.
This means Directors wear personal protective clothing when it is expected of others, follow procedures created for all employees, make strong policy decisions, and lead by actions not purely by words. Assigning a board director responsibility to champion safety and drive through change sends a positive message to the rest of the company that it is as important as other policies.
With this commitment firmly in place, the next step is to understand the organisations actual level of compliance which means a review is required. This should include all aspects of the business looking at actual working practices, documentation, training and talking to staff. This work should be undertaken by a qualified Safety & Health Practitioner with a strong background in working with companies to achieve safety success. From here, an action plan can be created identifying realistic specific, measured, assignable, realistic, and timed related (S.M.A.R.T) objectives assigned to key members of staff.
The leadership team will have to agree resources required to remove any obstacles to actioning the plan within realistic timescales. Often resources mean freeing up time for key members of staff to complete actions assigned to them. Finding the finances to “fix” issues or carry out remedial work is very often secondary to this.
Once the plan has been agreed, it must be actioned. This may mean completing risk assessments which could highlight further issues which are then added to the action plan. It means agreeing policy, safe systems of work, training people and supervising them well.
At this stage, it is important to listen to staff at every level and involve them in what is happening. Consider creating a tight, strategic working group charged with making sure the action plan is used and delivered. The group should consist of representatives of the company, including any unions if applicable, the competent person and chaired by the Director responsible for safety. The group can agree policy decisions and review progress making sure that relevant people remain accountable. Published minutes are passed to the board for final approval and serve to provide them with information about what is actually going on.
Assumptions can not be made that once arrangements are in place the job is done. There must be structured, proactive checks in place such as spot checks on working practices, the condition of workplaces and work equipment. Management checks and audits by senior managers reinforce leadership commitment.
Reactive monitoring includes information from incident and near miss statistics analysed for trends.
From checks, KPIs can be created, passed through the working group, and up to the board.
To move forward and continuously improve, Directors must act. This means reviewing the Health & Safety Policy and making corporate changes if responsibilities are unclear or not working. HSG65 advises organisations that standards be reviewed at least annually which brings the process around full circle. It is about learning lessons, about listening to others, demonstrating strong leadership and managing well.