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Why Communication is So Important for Health and Safety
The best plans in the world can still fail because of communication; either a total lack of it, or miscommunication when meanings are lost and what is said is misconstrued or received incorrectly. Therefore, effective communication needs to be given just as much time and attention as the actual plan itself, as there is a high probability of failure if the communication element is ignored or not enough resources are allocated to it.
The topic of health and safety is certainly no different. A lack of clear communication can not only hinder the unmitigated implementation of a health and safety culture, but can also end up contributing significantly to a dangerous workplace where accidents and illnesses occur more frequently.
What Communication is Required?
When it comes to devising health and safety plans, communication should actually begin before there is a need for manager's decisions to be communicated down to staff members. It should start with involving workers in the hazard analysis process and what they identify to be the most pressing risks to their safety and health, as they are the ones who work on the "shop floor" all day and will be the ones who have a greater understanding of the various dangers which currently exist and that management may not even be aware of. Workers and employees need to be proactive when it comes to health and safety, bringing issues to the attention of management rather than waiting for them to discover it and introduce changes.
The Need for Effective Communication
Once managers have made the decision to change a way of working or modify/change machinery then it is vitally important that they communicate these alterations to staff members as they will need to know what is expected of them in terms of working in a different way. It will also be useful to take the time to explain why such changes have been necessary, as this should assist with overcoming a lot of objections and resistance to change in the workplace.
Without suitable communication the transition to a different, safer way of working can become anything from a slightly longer process to out-and-out chaos if some employees are working in the original way whilst others work in the new. Production rates can be hit if equipment is changed and operatives are not given training in how to use the machinery in an optimal manner. In fact, it can actually be more dangerous than before if operatives have not been trained ahead of operating new or modified equipment, which ironically goes against the whole reason for making the changes in the first place. It is imperative that appropriate health and safety training is provided which has been updated and incorporates any changes that have been made to the workplace or the tasks being conducted by employees.
Communication and Organising
Communication is also essential when it comes to organising which is another significant part of health and safety. Without thorough organisation, things can get missed or not planned completely enough, which again puts health, wellbeing and potentially even lives at risk.
Why Health and Safety Aims Need to be Stated
Ask anybody what they expect when they hear that a business will be focusing on improving health and safety in the workplace, and their initial thought is likely to be that the company is aiming to reduce the chances of accidents occurring. By doing so, the number of people adversely affected by such incidents, and the severity to which they are impacted, will be minimised.
However just making the declaration of "improving health and safety" will be too general a statement and lack the specific details that will be necessary in order to facilitate its achievement. In order to create a safe workplace where the likelihood of an employee, visitor, nearby member of the public or the environment is harmed in some way, exact and detailed plans and actions will need to be undertaken.
Approaching health and safety with a nondescript plan of action will often result in little to nothing actually being done. In this case, the same dangers to health which existed before will continue to be present, with the potential to cause harm at any moment. To improve the levels of health and safety in a place of work, the following factors need detailed consideration:
Specific objectives need to be defined in order to increase the chances of them being achieved. Having a clear focus will be far easier to work towards than a generalised desire which has no measurable targets. For example, an objective of "Reducing the number of accidents in the workplace by 10% within three months" will be a far better objective than simply saying "to have fewer accidents in the workplace".
Plans are only effective if people work towards them. No matter how clear the objective, if nobody is actively working to achieve it then it is highly unlikely to be accomplished. As part of the plan, tasks and responsibilities should be assigned to individuals so that they and others know who is doing what.
The best plans in the world will fail to get off the ground if they are not properly communicated and nobody knows about them. Effective communication is vital for getting people to understand what it is they need to do, and why they need to be doing it (see 'Why' section below).
Getting employees on board beforehand, rather than simply issuing orders to them without warning, will result in greater motivation from them to work towards the objectives, and ultimately significantly increasing the chances of the stated objectives becoming a reality. Often this is done through such methods as health and safety training courses which teach employees of the dangers and serious consequences that can occur as a result of an incident in the workplace. By explaining the risks, and the urgent need to tackle the issues, workers are more likely to buy-in to what management are trying to achieve in terms of improving health and safety within the company.
As mentioned under the 'Objectives' heading above, defining clear timescales makes accomplishment much more likely as it puts a definitive deadline on what needs to be achieved. Without this, tasks and changes will often get left for another day, which ultimately becomes months, years or possibly even never.
Talking About Health and Safety is Not Enough
The attitude of managers plays a significant part in the overall health and safety culture of the business. Employees take their lead from managers as to how they should act and how seriously they should approach something, and so if managers are not seemingly taking health and safety seriously then workers are highly likely to follow suit. Sometimes it can be just the impression they give out which can do the damage rather than their true feelings. For instance, the managers of a company may indeed take health and safety seriously, but if they make jokes about it whenever they are down on the shop floor and give the impression that health and safety is not important or that it is a problem having to follow all rules and guidelines, then employees may start to think that managers do not take it seriously, even when in actual fact they do.
The Need for Positive Action
Even those managers who do take health and safety seriously still need to appreciate that talking about health and safety is not enough on its own; it must also be backed up with positive action.
Managers can talk all they like about how important it is to always wear protective clothing when doing a particular task or working with/near certain hazardous substances, but they also need to ensure that they first provide protective equipment which is suitable for this task, as well as conducting regular inspections and timely repairs or replacement of damaged or failing clothing and equipment. Without positive action to back up what they are saying about the importance of health and safety in the workplace, employees will just assume that their words are hollow and not much attention needs to be paid to them. If employees are not paying attention to the health and safety instructions which management are giving them, then it is similar to managers not providing any instruction at all. Employees will also be much more willing to attend health and safety courses, and also to pay attention to what is being taught if they feel that management are also taking the topic seriously and that they will be expecting those they employ to be proficient in working safely and preventing harm (not to mention damage to property!) coming to themselves or others.
For a safe place of work, managers therefore need to not only talk about health and safety by creating effective plans and deciding what needs to be done, but they also need to supplement these words with action. By communicating procedures clearly and effectively with employees, and putting into place positive actions, a safe place of work and an active health and safety culture within the business is much more likely to be achieved and maintained. As a result, accident rates will be minimised and subsequently an injury or illness befalling a worker, site visitor or members of the public who happen to be nearby will be much less likely to occur.