This article quite simply aims to share some of my own auditing experiences as an health and safety professional who is fortunate enough to visit and audit some amazing and interesting organisations. I've found that regardless of the industry, the basics of any positive health and safety culture are the same. I've also discovered over the past ten years that many businesses aspiring to achieve 18001 accreditation often think they are a long way off, but in reality they are closer than they think.
I'm confident that reading my articles will give you practical and meaningful advice with real world examples to help provide assurance that an health and safety management system is effective in reality and doesn't just look good on paper. They will also give a good indication of whether or not a management system could meet the requirements of 18001 if that's what your aims are, a gap analysis if you like.
So, whenever I conduct an audit, whether it be an internal 18001 audit or a supplier audit, I look for commitment from leadership...
Commitment is key
Without commitment at the top we could be fighting a losing battle. This must start with a clear HSE policy and be endorsed by senior management.
The policy isn't just a single page statement of intent posted at Reception. The policy must be supported by clear arrangements, the who is responsible for what etc., and doesn't need to be rocket science. The HSE themselves have excellent resources and advice for starting your policy - Write a health and safety policy for your business.
Policy and its Communication
What good is a policy endorsed by management if people don't actually know about it?
Communicating a policy to employees can easily be achieved by using a variety of methods, such as printed copies or posters on noticeboards, email, printed copies handed out at inductions, intranet, toolbox talks, committee meetings etc., whatever suits your business really.
I wouldn't expect people to memorise the policy, but I would expect people to have an understanding of the intent and basic content of the policy. I'd also expect them to be able to find it when asked.
For me, as long as there is a process in place for developing, implementing, reviewing and communicating the policy, that's something that can always be further developed over time.
All levels of management need to fully understand exactly what it is they are accountable for. It doesn't wash any more that management bury their heads in the sand and think the Health and Safety Department are responsible for implementation and maintenance of an HSE management system. It's a line management responsibility and the Health and Safety Department are there to support the business by giving advice, education, raising awareness, finding new and creative ways to improve a culture etc, but not to do all the work.
I want to know what managers are doing to get involved, but I want evidence, data, something to 'show and tell'. Statistics are fine to an extent where they show improvements in accident trends, observations etc., but I'm also looking for non-statistical measures / objectives. For example, to commit to completing formal health and safety training like IOSH or NEBOSH courses (there are others of course!), committing to participate in behavioural safety initiatives, using appropriate and relevant safety messages at department meetings to encourage discussion and to challenge people's thinking towards working safely.
It doesn't wash any more that management bury their heads in the sand and think the Health and Safety Department are responsible for implementation and maintenance of an HSE management system.
It's nice to have a well written policy endorsed by senior management, but it means nothing if management are not involved in the HSE processes implemented to prevent harm. It's also nice to hear management confirming their commitment to supporting the HSE management systems, but they need to be able to demonstrate that commitment or it can be seen as just 'talking a good game'.
Typical areas I look for evidence of commitment can be things like participation in HSE meetings, audits, inspections, investigations, promotional campaigns, behavioural based observations, taking on health and safety courses like IOSH / NEBOSH / NVQ etc., toolbox talks or whatever other methods a business might use to engage the workforce.
All too often I come across management teams who are involved but don't formally record or capture data to demonstrate their involvement. Sometimes they don't even know how involved they actually are! For example, people often say they are on the shop floor every day and they will deal with any HSE issues that might crop up and there might be records to show. But if nothing crops up, there might not be a record of everything going well because we tend not to celebrate the good things for some reason.
How about if one of those times a manager is on the shop floor they actively look for positive HSE signals as well as 'weak' signals needing attention, then formally record that? Nothing complicated, something to say 'I conducted an HSE walkthrough and found improvements in housekeeping', or 'I found people working the way they are supposed to'.
Positive re-enforcement will have long-lasting effects and will likely lead to employees maintaining good standards or aspiring to them.
Positive findings = reinforce positive behaviour = more positive behaviour.
Communication of management involvement methods through meetings, toolbox talks, newsletters or whatever, will help give the workforce confidence that the company takes HSE seriously.
Go out there and catch somebody doing something right, then say thank you.
Performance - Targets and Objectives
Statistics, grrrrrrrr! We can sometimes find ourselves consumed by statistics and measures, hopefully they are meaningful and useful, but sometimes they don't add value at all. It's not my intention to knock an organisation for measuring performance, I'd rather just encourage people to challenge the data they collect for what it's actually worth. Get rid of it if all it does is give somebody a pat on the back for creating a pretty graph on a spreadsheet.
Reactive measures, a necessary evil. Legislative requirements, corporate requirements, industry requirements, essential analysis needs etc. All well and good, but I'd very much like to see more in the way of proactive indicators. Here's a few examples:
- Training hours - induction, DSE, manual handling, COSHH, fire safety, fork lift truck, working at height to name but a few. These training elements could very well be provided by the organisation, but not actively measured. Measuring this demonstrates commitment from management to customers, regulators, insurance agencies, the workforce, unions etc.
- Behavioural based observations - these can be an indication of cultural changes and analysed in conjunction with reactive measures, can often indicate areas where improvements might be needed. For example, an increase in people not wearing cut resistant gloves will likely increase hand and finger injuries. Reactive measures showing this increase are too late for those injured, but proactive measures will give the opportunity to assess the situation and make improvements before an injury happens. An approach which is easy to say and sounds very obvious, but not always adopted
- Audits and inspections are essential tools no HSE professional and organisation should be without
- HSE meetings - it's easy to fall behind with these important meetings, but formally measuring them against agreed objectives will give a good indication of the value an organisation places on them. A colleague of mine (a manager) treats all of his HSE meetings as 'sacred' and it's something he expects others to do also
Targets and statistics are hugely important, essential for our profession, a necessary evil (can you tell I'm not the statistics loving type?), but they really do need to be meaningful and worth the effort. Whatever is measured though, as an auditor I want to see if a business truly understands what it all means and if the data really adds value and makes a difference; if not, redirect that energy somewhere better.
Clear objectives on the other hand, these don't necessarily need to be primarily statistical. These can and should be able to demonstrate clear commitment from a business and the desire to 'do the right thing'.
That's obviously all in an ideal world of course!
Here are some resources on HSfB which may help...
Policy samples and advice on our Management of Health and Safety downloads page
Communication downloads - Communication, Consultation, Promotion
Monitoring and analysis tools, statistics, audit / inspection templates - Monitoring / Review
Discussion on the forums - Health & Safety Policy
Other helpful articles and resources...
RoSPA Workplace Safety - Who's handling your safety audits? Internal vs. external
Health and Safety Executive - Auditing and reporting
Seton - Health and Safety Audit: Best Practice (Internal)