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Health & Safety -  Does it need a kick to the B@@@@ks ?

Health & Safety - Does it need a kick to the B@@@@ks ?

I received this WhatsApp message from a friend, who waited 30 minutes to be issued a permit to use a 1.2 metre stepladder. Unfortunately, this message sums up (rightly or wrongly) the growing perception that safety professionals are a stumbling block to profit, due to bureaucracy gone mad.


Why the need to evolve?

In what is a very challenging job, there is some fantastic work being carried out by safety professionals today, often in the face of disengagement and misconception. We as safety professionals must continue to ask ourselves the questions as to how we can improve as an industry to continue to evolve.

Despite the excellent work carried out, there is still a challenge to reduce the number of serious and fatal accidents occurring in UK and Ireland.

GB: 137 Fatalities, 70,116 RIDDOR’s in 2017 (Health & Safety at work: Vital statistics 2017)

Northern Ireland:16 Fatalities, 357 major injuries in 2016 -17.(HSENI Annual report 2016-17).

Bureaucratic Controls

In the last 20 years, bureaucratic controls have been increasing with more forms, checklists and paperwork being added to our already complicated management systems.

I feel as safety professionals we need to be objective and question what we are trying to achieve with these bureaucratic controls.

Is it our aim to remove any decision making for any High Frequency/Low Consequence Events? To deny human autonomy and self-determination of risk?

Are we asking the workforce to stop thinking for themselves and just follow commands?

Where there is work, there is risk of harm. We cannot eliminate hazards, they are ever present in our daily lives. By mollycoddling our workforce with administrative controls, when they are faced with unforeseen hazards, they are less likely to spot them as they in a perceived comfort zone.

As safety professionals we can decide to keep putting up controls in the form of checklists for High Frequency Low Consequence Events, or we can decide to give the autonomy back to the workers, to ensure they are alert to risks and put effective controls in place as the job progresses.

Furthermore, by implementing checklists and forms, we are adding extra cost to our business through

•    Time for supervisor writing out the form or permit,
•    Time for the subcontractor waiting on the form being issued,
•    Time for the safety officer to inspect the form to ensure compliance

(Which inevitably like most administrative control will fall by the way side unless utmost effort is put in to enforce it)
Would this resource not bebetter invested on planning future work, increasing the numbers of behavioural observation, developing risk awarenessand ensuring positive & negative reinforcement of behaviours on site?

Each company is different, with different spectrums of risks.  You may find that High Frequency, Low Consequence Events is your biggest risk and needs the most attention. That’s fine, but always look out for the hidden.

Profit:  It’s not a dirty word!

I truly believe one of our roles as safety professional is to maximise profit within our business.  If we believe that all facets of an organisation must committo safety, why are we not providing the reciprocal collaboration and support so they can achieve their financial targets?

When I tell business leaders that one of my objectives is to maximise profit, they get very uncomfortable and I hear things like “Yeah but it must be safe?” or “Well that’s ok, but we don’t compromise with safety surely”? 

Here in lies the problem with safety evolving to the next level.
People believe driving profit must mean compromising on safety, or to be a safe company will result in profits suffering. This coupled with the perception that safety professionals do not show financial acumen has led to mistrust of safety professional with other departmental heads and business leaders.

This mistrust often manifests itself in one the most critical element of reducing risk and major accidents: Planning

During planning of new projects, safety professionals are often not consulted at the critical periods when decisions are made, as we are seen as roadblocks that don’t understand business and will ultimately are add cost or slow production. 

To change this, it is not enough to just highlight the moral reasons for good safety, no one runs a business to cause harm (I hope). We have to demonstrate that we understand the complex decisions madein budgeting and resourcing of new projects.  There are many business risks other than safety including commercial, operational and cash flow that have to be considered.

By demonstrating our understanding of complex decision making, leaders will be more inclined to seek our advice on the financial benefits of excellent safety performance.

Reducing the High Consequence Events Through Planning


In the construction industry, two of the biggest causes of fatalities and major injuries is falls from height and being struck by objects or vehicles. Yes, we can put administrative controls in place like checklists and permits to control this, but as you can see from the hierarchy of control, this is not as effective.

The real ‘bang for your buck’ for safety professional’s is being involved at the tender stage or the planning stage, were high risk activities can be identified, eliminated or substituted. Examples include: 

•    Eliminating working at height through design.
•    Costing for the correct fall protection at tender stage
•    Reviewing the program of works, to ensure different work packages do not conflict. i.e.  bricklayers working below steel erection.
•    Detailing a traffic management plan that eliminates pedestrian walking in vehicle zones.

Unfortunately, until businesses stop seeing safety professionals as potential roadblocks to production and profit, wemay not begiven this opportunity to give our expert advice.

Driving Change

So, each time you speak to your Directors, project manager and commercial managers - talk about profit and efficiency.

Sell safety by highlighting:

•    The financial returns through efficiencies in production techniques;
•    Improved employee morale and the resulting uplift in production;
•    Reduced downtime due to better planning;
•    Reduction in insurance premiums;
•    Improved image of the company, when clients see safe behaviours, they understand that this means a well-run company;
•    Increased business development from repeat work.

Carry out post projects reviews, highlight where additional profit could be achieved through better collaborative planning, or through a safer project.

By continually selling the financial benefit of safety, we can instigate behaviour changes at the top with our advice being sought when it really matters.

This blog was written by Declan Kearney of K4 Consultancy.


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