News & Views

Who you gonna call?

BY Steve Ashton
Health & Safety
BG Orange

If an employee of yours sees a dangerous situation at work - what do they do?  If they see a workmate (another of your employees) flouting the rules on safety, or if they are asked to use a piece of equipment themselves that is missing an important safety device, would they tell you? 

A recent survey suggests that 75% of British workers may be afraid to speak up about safety issues for fear they may lose their job or be labelled a 'trouble maker'.  Of those surveyed, 1 in 5 wouldn't report an issue even if they felt it placed them in imminent danger! Employers need to be worried about this.  If workers do not believe their fears will be listened to, if they worry they may be victimised, then the employer is losing the potential benefit of hundreds of pairs of eyes that should be helping the business to run safely.   

Safety is not just the job of the health and safety officer (or the health and safety consultant), and neither is it a job that supervisors and managers can do very effectively on their own.  It is a job for everyone including every single employee, contractor, visitor and customer.  But if the fear of reprisal is greater than the fear of accidents then the unsafe conditions will persist and unsafe acts will be repeated until the inevitable happens... 

Law At Work Health and Safety Managers have helped to pick up the pieces following far too many incidents which were entirely forseeable.    Astonishingly, often the only people who knew there was a risk kept quiet.  The plaintive management cry of "..if only they had told us..." is heard far too often.  The signs and symptoms are there, but every business needs a mechanism to collect the information and to act on it.  

Of course, employees need to be sufficiently trained and alert to be able to identify problems in the first place. Common problems include employees being told to work with chemical substances without being told about the associated risk - a little COSHH training can go a long way - or being told to use a ladder without anyone explaining that the bit of rope tied to the ladder is there so it can be tied to something secure at the top. 

Law at Work can help businesses to develop systems that value employee input, that reward concern for health and safety and that encourage reporting of issues.  Or we can provide a shoe box where employee safety suggestions can be left anonymously in hopes that something will be done!  We can provide tailored training that raises risk awareness among the workforce.  Whichever way it is done, it is important that employees feel able to raise safety concerns without fear, to report accidents in confidence and to refuse to do anything that they feel exposes them to undue danger.  It is critical that they understand the need to look out for their own safety and that of their workmates, and that they have the knowledge and awareness of what good looks like.  And, perhaps most importantly, they need to know "who they're gonna call" if they do see something that needs to be reported...

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