For some, H&S Documents are like Linus’s Blanket

The Problem

In stressful times, we all love something to hold onto for comfort…preferably something that we can hide behind.

So it is with some potential Clients I come across.

They ‘kind-of know’ that their current large stack of Health and Safety (‘H&S’) documents gathering dust in the corner is a little bit silly, a bit like having a blanket as a comforter…it’s not really going to be much use for defence.

Some would characterise this as a battle between the ‘heart’ (our feelings) and the ‘head’ (our intellect).  And psychologists tell us that we’re perfectly capable of holding two opposing views in our heads at the same time. For example, studies have shown that many people feel that ‘H&S at work has gone too far’, but the same group don’t think that it has ‘gone too far’ where they work.

These kinds of internal conflict are confusing for us when we want to make a decision as to how to solve our own business’ Health & Safety conundrum – What do we need? How much of it do we need? Who can we trust to steer us through the maze?

Well, certainly you shouldn’t trust anyone who can’t explain the usefulness of H&S system documents in improving H&S, as opposed to just their ability to get through the latest contractor vetting scheme. After all – call me an idealist if you want – but wasn’t the original purpose of organising for H&S supposed to feed through to reducing risk?

So it sometimes seems like we’ve gone off course a little by holding onto having a lot of documents to show somebody (as our safety blanket), and forgetting that quality is more important in this field than quantity.

This reminds me of the old saying ‘Never mind the Quality – Feel the Width!’ And if we have strayed too far into ‘feeling the width’ territory –  who’s to blame?

If personal experience is anything to go by, we all are:

Some Managers prefer easy ‘tick-in-the-box-even-if-it-makes-no-sense’ paperwork and training, and I’ve found that it can be hard to wrestle this kind of blanket from some people’s grasp!

Some Employees may also collude in this – filling in forms as quickly and as thoughtlessly as possible – as though there might be a risk of contamination if they hold onto the paperwork for too long.

And of course it’s true that a minority of H&S Advisers hide behind obscure language and non-targeted paperwork.

The Solution

The solution is to have a trusted, knowledgeable H&S Adviser – internal if you’re lucky enough to have someone who knows what they’re talking about – otherwise external. This person can help wean you off your old blanket and provide an alternative i.e. simple-as-possible systems that are possible to understand and work with (and will also whisk you through those pesky contractor vetting questionnaires!).

In addition, the same H&S Adviser can help get your employees on side through training and coaching so that you’re all working towards the same goals.

But most importantly managers then have to have the courage and willingness to let go of past beliefs and peek over the old blanket to a world where documents can be :

Clear, Proportionate to the Risk, and in the final analysis: Useful

With Linus and his Blanket, we’d have the luxury of waiting and hoping that the child would eventually grow out of it – but of course we can’t afford to wait as we’re talking here about the possible risk of injury and how we can best plan to prevent it.