On ‘Taking Back Control’

Following the financial crash, then austerity, and the recent Brexit vote, there is a groundswell feeling that we need to ‘take back control’. This seems to encompass the wish for less inequality and less regulation/bureaucracy.

For H&S practitioners this is noting new – people have been complaining about ‘too much H&S’ for years.

But we also know that the principle reason for the economic crash of 2008 was the reckless profiteering on bad loans for ‘sub-prime’ mortgages i.e. poor business ethical practices.

So we have two big problems bothering people:

  • A general dislike of unethical business practices leading to gross inequality
  • A general dislike of other people imposing rules on us

I think as far as the subject of Health and Safety is concerned, we can easily deal with the first in terms of any underlying resentment of the populace towards profiteering by H&S advisers – not many people would grow rich beyond their wildest dreams by advising businesses on how to be safer!

However, I do wonder how many H&S consultancies would be prepared to say at the outset: ‘You don’t need us, the risks are low and you’re doing fine’.

At Just Health and Safety we would (and do) by the way. It doesn’t make you ‘Philip Green rich’ because that would involve exaggerating the risks to try and clinch every available contract, but it certainly does feel better than selling something some people don’t need.

Too Many rules?

A curious thing about cutting regulation is that many of those who would complain don’t really know what they would cut. Regulations shouldn’t be measured by their number or weight – after all, not many people would say that we need to relax the myriad of regulations governing the quality of our basic services e.g. water, food or air quality.

Often the people complaining about too much regulation aren’t even doing the basics about compliance with laws that have been around decades. The same people can say without apparent irony that ‘something should be done’ when there is a ‘failure’ by authorities (e.g. social workers, security agencies, financial regulators) to apply necessary controls.

This can be paraphrased as (deep breath): ‘we want less of this mysterious thing that we are not doing anything about but which makes us feel guilty and vulnerable whenever anyone asks us about it…except when other people are doing bad things – then we want more of it’.

Of course, in the Health and Safety field most people would want their employer to be organised enough to prevent serious harm at work, AND not to spend so much time on risk assessing etc. that the rules become overly—prescriptive and hard for them to live by.

At last! One thing we can ALL agree on is that too much of anything is a bad thing – but remember this also includes cream cakes, chips and alcohol etc. (sorry).

Boring as it may seem, we’re talking about developing a sense of proportion in the application of rules and regulations and the inevitable paperwork that follows.

So who is foolish or courageous enough to step in and help set the balance at the right proportion?…I’m coming to that, but it’s definitely not a ghost-buster or a claims lawyer.

Kicking Donkey Syndrome?

An old neighbour friend of my parents once wrote in a card to me ‘Have you ever noticed when a donkey is kicking he’s not working?’ (I hadn’t as there weren’t many donkeys around our way, and anyway I was only 8 so didn’t understand it). However, after years of reflection, I think it can be applied to anyone who ‘reacts against something’ without dispassionately examining their own situation or contribution.

When companies are reluctant to tackle H&S and think overall ‘it’s gone too far’ but at the same time have done very little about it, you have to wonder – where is the sense of it being a burden coming from?

  • Are they acting like donkey’s and are vigorously kicking against something, where it would be easier to apply the energy doing the work? Are they hooked on reading the Daily Mail?
  • Maybe they’re experiencing a background feeling of guilt originating through commercial supplier vetting – the constant need to fill in different accreditation forms whilst feeling that you’re always falling short of the task.
  • Or perhaps they’ve looked at the HSE website – noticed the ‘H&S is soooooo simple!’ messages, then delved a little further into the guidance which might apply to their own company and thought ‘Eh? Why the mixed messages?’
  • Or just as likely they’ve done what we’re all prone to do – started to look at it, printed some stuff off, put it to the back of the pile to look at later, made a cup of coffee, emptied the bins. And still there it sits, silently mocking us and building up in our minds as a huge, unsolvable task.

The Inescapable Conclusion

BREAKING NEWS: In response to Theresa May mysteriously saying ‘Brexit means Brexit’,

Just Health and Safety says: ‘To Take Back Control’ we need to ‘Take Back Control’.

This means a business should make efforts to understand its obligations and one way to do this is to do your research (unfortunately, this means some reading…and maybe more than one page). Another, we would say simpler way is to find an honest broker who has already done the reading and isn’t intent on scaring you, then ripping you off by applying the rules out of all proportion to the risks. But a note of caution: you still need to be involved – this isn’t ‘outsourcing H&S’, you still need to have control of the reins.

So, as no doubt the newly formed ‘Brexit Department’ is discovering, ‘Taking Back Control’ means doing some work – but regrettably for them, there isn’t someone nice and helpful around to guide them through it.

The Sunny Uplands

There are, of course, benefits –

  • You won’t feel that there’s too much H&S because you’re tackling it in a proportional way
  • You’ll feel more confident and efficient when you get supplier vetting questionnaires, visiting inspectors etc.
  • It’ll be a relief that you’re doing your bit to keep staff safe, and comply with the law – thus making your organisation less vulnerable into the bargain
  • Your skin will suddenly feel younger, softer, and any wrinkles will appear to be reduced.

OK, I lied about the last one, but then I don’t claim to be an expert on cosmetics.