Using Health and Safety to Improve Employee Engagement

Using Health and Safety for Competitive Advantage

Small business owners are justifiably concerned about the amount of red tape that they face regarding health and safety in the workplace. However, health and safety can be a great way to engage with the workforce

Health and Safety as a Cost
In a recent article in the Financial Times, Luke Johnson wrote about the “Dangers of rules that always put safety first”. He doubts that the red tape involved with health and safety has made businesses safer or happier places. Reading about “Elf and safety” in the UK press, it might be tempting to agree with him.

Most of these stories are urban myths as this note from the UK Health and Safety Executive shows. It is a well documented fact that health and safety legislation has had a dramatic effect both in reducing industrial accidents and increasing the safety employees wherever it has been put in place.

Failure to have an effective health and safety policy not only exposes workers to unnecessary risks, it may also lead to managers facing serious criminal charges. Unfortunately, sometimes the amount of work that appears to be needed to be compliant may seem to be out of all relation to the size of the business. Business leaders clearly cannot ignore the topic but may have the feeling that it is just a cost and somehow secondary to the real goal of running the company.

An Alternate View of Health and Safety
There is, however, another reason for the focus on safety beyond keeping the management team out of jail. All businesses need an engaged workforce if they are to succeed. For example, if the business has been in financial difficulty, you can be sure that the employees know about it. They will be anxiously eyeing the management team and probably polishing their CVs. These are the same employees that will be needed to help get the business out of trouble. If they quit, the business will face a bigger challenge.

This is where health and safety can become a useful tool to help reengage with employees. Rather than leaving health and safety to a nominated representative (often HR or someone from operations), the business leader personally takes charge by leading a simple health and safety audit.

Health and Safety Audit
The business leader should visit each part of the operation and talk to employees about their work – with a focus on safety. A simple checklist that covers all the main safety points should be used to make sure that nothing is missed out. It is surprising how many problems will surface during this activity – blocked fire exits, poor handling of heavy loads. I have even seen cutting torches being used beside paper files! During these discussions, it is likely that other business issues will come up from the employees and it is this dialogue which is so critical the process.

After the audit, a corrective action plan is put together to fix any issues that have been identified. This should include timelines and which department manager owns each action. The plan should be made available to the whole organisation along with regular progress updates.

By implementing this process, the leader will not only have an action plan for health and safety, they will also have built a communication path with their employees. As a result, they will have a much better idea of the mood of the organisation. This provides much needed insight for the management team to start figuring out what business issues need to be addressed.

Conclusions
Health and safety does not have to be unwanted bureaucracy. If the business leader takes it seriously the business will be a place where the employees are both safe and engaged. Proactively addressing the well being of the staff in this way is great way to reengage with employees as well as addressing a mandatory requirement.

About Sam
Sam Luke is a director at Xyrho Ltd. He uses his 25 plus years sales, marketing and general management experience to help small and medium businesses improve their financial and customer performance.