If you treat H&S like passing on a hot potato, your strategy will fail

It’s probably true to say that the only people who like a really complex subject are those that are learning to master it (with a sense of purpose) or those who feel they know enough to move around it, practice their expertise, and develop their weaknesses.

As with a lot of areas involved in I.T., so-called ‘end Users’ just want the thing to work and any problems to be solved by someone else – while we get on with the really important work.

So it can be with some Managing Directors, or Directors who have taken on the responsibility of ensuring Health & Safety systems are up-to-scratch.

Just do it for me’ is often the approach, but of course the wrong approach – someone must keep things on the boil and ensure all risk areas are being dealt with.

Frequently, H&S is passed onto an Administrator or Senior HR person who do their best to get everyone working together but may not have the management ‘clout’ to get actions followed-through.

They’ve been given the veritable ‘hot potato’ and a pair of oven-gloves (i.e. the assistance of a H&S Consultant – flattering image, eh?). After an initial ‘honeymoon’ period where everyone is pretending to the MD that they’re all enthusiastic about the new strategy, the person holding the hot potato can’t seem to be able to get anyone interested in turning up and contributing.

This is a failure of leadership and oversight. People can work for years skirting around high-risk areas just because the person (often a Director or Senior Manager) in charge doesn’t co-operate. If you’re not holding the hot potato yourself, it’s an easy matter to hold people off indefinitely by saying: ‘I didn’t see the email’ or ‘I’ll get around to this later’ etc. etc.

The person trying to get things actioned is very often too concerned about not rocking-the-boat or spoiling relationships to push too hard, and the person ultimately in charge frequently doesn’t give them enough support. Again, this is unacceptable.

In H&S there seems to be the attitude amongst many senior managers and directors of ‘Just tell us exactly what to do’. This is only a minor improvement on the more crude ‘Just do it for me‘ and often comes with the implication of not getting too personally involved, not being able to read anything substantive, and treating all subjects like a ‘goods in – goods out’ type of problem.

Imagine going to a counsellor because you’re suffering from stress and they say ‘OK, I’m quite short of time, let’s cut out the needless chit-chat and analysis, these things are usually about your family or job…. here’s some lifestyle leaflets to read…. NEXT!’

The point is, as I’ve written in another blog post, the product, or ‘Goods Out’ (i.e. what we need to do about H&S for this organization) comes from the right people coming to the table, discussing the strengths/weaknesses of their risk control systems (i.e. ‘Goods In’) and making suggestions for practical improvements. If this doesn’t happen, then your approach will not be consistent, won’t have the benefit of people sharing knowledge and experience, and so unsurprisingly as a senior manager you’ll have too many ‘Known and Unknown Unknowns‘ as famously put by Donald Rumsfeld.

MD’s and Senior Managers: If you let people with responsibility for areas of risk within your organization ‘off-the-hook’ on this then you WILL fail to get the assurance you need that you are doing enough to protect your workers.

To return to the analogy, this ‘hot potato’ must not reside too comfortably or for too long with one person with limited influence who you’ve given the oven-glove to. If necessary, buy more oven-gloves (consultant time in this analogy) and make sure the right people attend, contribute, and are held accountable.