How strong is your safety culture?
12 January 2022
Any business that has hazardous areas on site should have stringent health and safety policies in place – but policies and protocols are merely the foundations and cannot create a truly safe workplace alone. Instead, safety must become embedded within a company’s culture, to ensure that everyone is always looking after themselves and their colleagues.
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Naz Dossa, CEO of technology safety specialists Peoplesafe and Chair of the British Security Industry Association (BSIA), looks at how to keep workers safe, particularly when alone or out of earshot of colleagues.
Creating a robust safety culture isn’t easy – it takes time to ensure that everyone is on board, and your team must see that safety is a priority at every level of your organisation. But there are some key steps you can take to make acting safely second nature.
Reviewing risk awareness
Over time, the risks your workers face may change, and workers may become desensitised to risk as they become more accustomed to their role and environment. It’s therefore vital to regularly review your team’s risk awareness, to highlight complacency and ensure that everyone knows where health and safety risks may arise at all times.
Checking your health and safety incident log can give you a good indication of risk awareness levels amongst your staff. Employees should be reporting ‘near misses’ (events that didn’t cause illness or injury but has the potential to) and ‘undesired circumstances’ (a set of conditions or circumstances). Recording these incidents demonstrates that your team is taking a proactive approach to health and safety.
You should also ask yourself not only whether your employees are educated in all of the risks they face, but also whether the management team understands these risks, too. To ensure health and safety is properly embedded within your culture, risk awareness must be high at every level of your organisation.
Talk to members of staff from across your business to find out whether they can accurately identify the risks and know what to do if a health and safety incident occurs. This will give you a clear view of any areas for improvement and help you to ensure everyone is involved in maintaining a safe workplace.
Looking out for lone workers
Limiting the number of workers in particularly hazardous areas, such as Zone 0 explosive environments, reduces the number of people exposed to the higher level of risk associated with these areas; however, if those who are chosen to work within hazardous areas are working alone, they are at even greater risk simply by being lone workers.
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) defines lone workers as anyone who ‘works by themselves or without close or direct supervision’. This means that even though there may be multiple people in the room, any of your employees that work out of sight or earshot of others or cannot easily access assistance are ‘lone workers’.
Some may be obvious: an employee working the evening shift at a petrol station by themselves, for example – while others may be less so – such as someone who is operating dangerous, noisy machinery that means they’re out of earshot of others. By building a strong safety culture within your organisation, you can keep your employees safe whether they’re working alone or as part of a team.
There are myriad risks that the lone worker faces in comparison to those who work in a team or with close supervision. One of the more obvious risks is if a lone worker were to have an accident – to be incapacitated by tripping and falling for instance – they could be reliant on someone else arriving at the scene in order to get help.
Lone workers can also be exposed to additional risk. If they are required to make a health and safety decision on the spot for instance, they have nobody else to consult. Psychologically, when left to make decisions alone, the majority of people will often opt for riskier choices. Even the smallest accidents can turn into something more serious if help is not readily available.
Improving safety culture
If you find that your organisation’s health and safety culture isn’t as robust as you would like it to be, there are plenty of simple steps you can take to improve it. Providing your team with more frequent health and safety training, for example, can help to refresh employees’ memories and ensure that safety is always front-of-mind.
It’s also important to ensure that senior employees and teams are leading by example when it comes to health and safety. Everyone has a role to play in keeping themselves and others safe. To create a truly robust safety culture, health and safety must be as much of a priority for your management team as it is for those working in the most hazardous areas of your business.
So, make sure that you’re involving everyone in health and safety discussions, training and implementation. By keeping everyone informed of any new risks they may face and new or updated health and safety practices they should adopt, you can help to ensure that everyone gets involved in putting policies into action.
Naz Dossa, Peoplesafe
Appointing ‘safety champions’ at every level of your organisation can help to encourage safety best practice and monitor engagement levels. Having dedicated employees across different departments accountable for promoting health and safety can increase risk awareness across your business and reduce the number of health and safety incidents as a result.
You can also boost your safety culture by investing in new safety equipment and technology, as this demonstrates to your team that you are serious about keeping them safe. By equipping your team with the tools, they need to stay safe, you are showing them that you are willing to support your commitment to safety with meaningful investments.
Finding technology fit for your environment
For workers operating in hazardous environments, the stringent rules for tech devices in dangerous or explosive areas has meant that many safety tech solutions are off-limits. However, innovation in this area means that there are now a number of ATEX approved devices and smartphones on the market, so even those operating in the most dangerous environments can benefit from safety technology.
Where a business has staff working alone, dedicated lone worker devices can give them a critical line of communication. Most lone worker devices provide two-way communication, so that workers can consult colleagues or call for assistance wherever they are. Not all devices are created equal, however, and there are certain features you should look out for to ensure that you’re providing your employees with maximum protection.
The best solution is one that is connected to a 24/7 Alarm Receiving Centre which is able to respond to any incident. Having GPS tracking adds the ability to pinpoint the device’s exact location which can help to significantly reduce the response time in an emergency. Additional features like fall detection, which means the device or app sends out an automatic alert when it is immobilised for a certain period of time, can make a tangible difference to employee safety and reduce the severity of the incident.
Some devices can be equipped with geofencing, which is a solution that gives you the ability to place a ‘virtual perimeter’ around certain areas of your site and send messages or alerts to employees when they cross the boundaries of these perimeters. If they’re entering a Zone 0 area, for example, you could prompt them to put on the correct PPE.
Upholding stellar safety standards
Ensuring that your employees have the tools and education they need to stay safe is an ongoing process. You will need to regularly encourage employees to follow best practice advice in terms of health and safety to ensure they’re working safely at all times, and stay abreast of new technologies to make sure your team has the best safety tools to hand.
If you’re providing workers with new devices, it’s also important to ensure they’re fully trained in how to use them, otherwise the devices might not be as useful as they could be in an emergency. It’s best to ask your lone worker solutions provider to carry out this training, as they will be able to explain how their devices work better than anyone else.
Employees have a responsibility for their own health and safety and need to be encouraged to provide feedback if they see risks that the business isn’t aware of. When a health and safety incident occurs – or there’s a near-miss – it’s vital that employees feel supported in logging the incident. This way, you can identify areas where improvements are needed and prevent future incidents from occurring.
Ultimately, building a strong safety culture within your workplace will require you to invest time and money into doing so – but when you do, you’re certain to see positive results. When your employees know that their safety is your priority, they’re far more likely to engage with the protocols you put in place, which creates a safer workplace for everyone.
About the author:
Naz Dossa is CEO at Peoplesafe and Chair of the British Security Industry Association (BSIA). Naz joined Peoplesafe in February 2020 as Chief Commercial Officer, becoming CEO in June that year. Having spent much of his career in the IT and telecoms sector, Naz is particularly interested in the role of technology in keeping workers safer.
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