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  7. Line Managers Have a Big Responsibility for Health and Safety

Line Managers Have a Big Responsibility for Health and Safety

A line manager making notes regarding workplace safety

The managers of an organisation play a vital role in shaping the health and safety of their company. From the creation of the health and safety policy, organising the provision of health and safety training for staff members, to making sure that policies and procedures are being followed, managers have these responsibilities and more for ensuring that the workplace is as safe as is reasonably practical for their employees and everyone nearby. In addition to this, they need to ensure that the business complies with all applicable legislation (which frequently changes) meaning that they need to keep up to date with those amendments that require them to make alterations within their company.

When discussing managerial responsibilities for health and safety, thoughts will primarily be focused on senior managers and directors, as it is them who set the direction for health and safety and how seriously it needs to be taken. In numerous health and safety articles on this site including "Managers and Health and Safety" and "Management Responsibilities for Health and Safety" we have seen that the attitude of senior management influences to a great extent the approach and attitudes of workers in terms of how seriously they take health and safety. If senior managers do not take health and safety seriously or, even worse, actively instruct employees to bypass or ignore safety regulations in order to get the job done quicker, then the probability of accidents and incidents occurring in the workplace increase significantly.

The Responsibility of Line Managers

However it is not just senior manager and directors which have an important part to play. Line managers also have a key responsibility for the creation and maintenance of health and safety in the company. Assuming that the directors and senior managers are in fact keen on complying with health and safety legislation and maintaining a safe place of work, then they will rely upon their line managers to implement and monitor such provisions, as well as acting as a conduit for feedback and safety improvement suggestions from workers on the shop floor back up to the boardroom.

Line managers therefore need to be people whom senior managers can trust, and not be willing to compromise safety in order to achieve certain targets and make themselves look better in the process. Responsible senior managers would much prefer a job to miss a deadline or go over budget rather than put people's health and safety at risk and all the negative repercussions which come to all concerned in the event of an accident or incident.

The management training they receive before taking up the role and during their tenure should include training in health and safety issues. Along with training in management responsibilities and other associated areas such as leadership and effective communication, health and safety courses which outline and examine the responsibilities of line managers from a health and safety perspective should also be completed. Typical examples include the IOSH Managing Safely and NEBOSH General Certificate courses, and will depend upon the nature of the industry and the responsibilities of the line manager in question.

Health and Safety Consultations

Managers in an organisation can be like monarchs in war time; whilst they may think that they know everything and the correct course of action to take at all times, a failure to listen to their generals who are actually in amongst the fighting and know exactly what is going on can be disastrous and lead to incorrect decisions and a failure to respond to changing circumstances.

The above scenario can be applied to managers when it comes to health and safety within an organisation. It is all very well sitting in the boardroom writing policies, procedures and devising health and safety training plans for employees, but this isolated environment does not allow them to hear about the actual risks and dangers that workers on the shop floor are facing, some of which the managers may not even have thought of. Only by talking to workers and going down to where the work takes place can they learn of the full extent of any risks.

Health and safety consultations between managers and workers play a key part in creating a health and safety culture and procedures which are truly effective at minimising the risks and dangers to employees. In small companies this can be done directly between managers and employers, whereas in large organisations the managers may need to meet with stewards and representatives of the workers who can pass on the concerns and issues.

Through consultations and open dialogue, managers and employees can work together to create a working environment which poses as little risk to the safety and health of all those who work there as far as is reasonable practical. This can be combined with health and safety qualifications like the NEBOSH General Certificate or bespoke health and safety training courses to create a safer place of work.

Routine Violations and Health and Safety Culture

A routine violation of one or more of the health and safety rules imposed by either legislation or by management can occur for a number of reasons, and is an issue which is covered in the health and safety management systems element of NEBOSH General Certificate courses. These routine violations are usually a result of the prevailing health and safety culture of the particular organisation, as they become the normal way of working amongst employees.

One of the major causes of health and safety violations is the pressure felt by employees to achieve targets. In many instances the health and safety procedures required to safeguard workers can often involve additional time, for example to put on personal protective equipment or fill in permit to work sheets, and so it can be extremely tempting for workers to bypass these safety measures and go straight into the task. Management will play a key role in this situation, either directly or indirectly. They may indirectly apply pressure by setting these targets and then not monitoring the effect it has on the activities of workers with regards to health and safety. Even worse, they may directly create the culture of violating health and safety regulations by instructing workers to flout the rules in order to get the job done quicker or more cheaply.

The urge to get tasks completed quicker and/or as inexpensive as possible, whether it comes as an instruction from management or not, is not the only reason for routine violations of safety rules. Without effective monitoring, workers may break the rules for no other reason than it is fun, for example driving vehicles at excessive speed, or through laziness at not being bothered to work through a safety checklist.

One of the key themes in many health and safety courses including the NEBOSH General Certificate is the importance that management have in implementing and enforcing health and safety rules within their workplace. Even if they have done everything such as performing risk assessments, creating policies, providing health and safety training to employees and communicating procedures, if they do not rigorously enforce the rules then many workers, particularly new starters, will begin to think that they no longer apply or are not meant to be taken seriously, so will not comply with them. If this happens they not only put themselves at risk, but also the lives of everyone around them as well potentially.

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