Worker engagement with procedures – closing the gap

Worker engagement with procedures – closing the gap


  • Date: Thursday 29th April 2021
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In the world of health and safety, procedures are essential to the effectiveness and safe running of our health and safety management systems. Procedures can come in various formats including paper systems, digital software and the growing platform of mobile apps; they’re quite simply everywhere. In your organisation you will likely have countless procedures already in place – even those unwritten rules – but have you taken the time to review them and consider if they’re fit for purpose for maintaining and improving safety? Does your workforce understand and follow procedures put in place, or are they just a paper exercise?

Understanding the gap

Procedures will include safety-critical information, approved methods of conduct and meeting statutory requirements – but are they written in the right manner for workers to access, understand and fulfil their requirements? A criticism of some procedures is based on the gap that exists between what has been written by employers and what the workforce are actually, feasibly, capable of doing or likely to follow.

To understand the potential issue, employers must understand why their procedures have been put in place – are they to provide strict structures to control workers to ensure they work safely, or are they a tool to encourage engagement in workers developing safer solutions? Employers may find that they have a mixture of both approaches, but if they predominantly provide a strict structure to control workers, are they accurate in their construction to ensure compliance or are they just too demanding and unobtainable?

Top-down and bottom-up

These are terms we frequently hear when considering engagement with the workforce and whilst organisations may favour one approach over the other, the most successful organisations will have a carefully blended version of both methods to ensure the right amount of control vs engagement for their operations. The sector in which an organisation operates can also, to an extent, dictate the preferred approach. Traditionally, because of their hierarchical nature, top-down management continues to be the dominant approach – but is this always best?

When we consider top-down procedures, they are put in place to give a prescribed, standardised method for controlling violations, errors and mistakes. Conversely, when we consider bottom-up procedures they are used as a method for engaging workers with a set of guiding starting points that encourage adaptation and interpretation based on the worker’s experience and competence in their work. Both approaches have their purposes and only the company themselves will know the best approach to adopt.

Closing the gap – the five As

Organisations may choose to be completely or predominantly either top-down or bottom-up, but for whichever balance they choose is right for them, the most important thing is to ensure worker engagement with those procedures. A simple way to improve workforce engagement is to adapt the five As approach as detailed below.

Active

Making workers an active part of the procedure creating process will ensure that ground-level knowledge and experience will drive the creation process and make it relevant to those that carry out the task(s) and workers are engaged from the start of the process.

Appropriate

Engaging workers can give a better understanding of how appropriate the procedures are to them and if they are the right approach, or whether other controls that feature higher in the hierarchy of controls can be used – such as eliminate, substitute or engineering control methods.

Achievable

Procedures that are too complex place a higher demand and pressure on individuals and increase the chance of error. Worker engagement will give a better understanding of the demands on workers, including simultaneous tasks, and can support the creation or more realistic, achievable procedures.

Approachable

Regardless of the overall type of approach taken when setting procedures, both management and workers should remain approachable to each other to ensure good communication is maintained and engagement drives progress. Consultation is a legal requirement but remember that this is two-directional.

Accessible

When procedures are ready to be written and communicated management must ensure they are accessible to all. Complex and technical language should not dominate documents and consideration should be given to those with low levels of literacy or have English as a second language. Pictures can often be a good method to visually demonstrate stages/tasks.

Communication is key

Whilst procedures are the glue that keeps so many parts of health and safety management together, it is all too easy for us to not take the time to review and consider their appropriateness or effectiveness and how they are being communicated. As with many other staples of good health and safety management, such as risk assessments, on of the dominant factors of success or failure is the communication systems behind them.

Consider being a new joiner to your organisation – how would your procedures be shared or explained to you? Would you have a formal induction and training package where you are presented with all of the relevant policies and procedures that must be read and signed as acknowledged? Maybe you would be pointed in the direction of a folder on the server to ‘read through them’, or there might not be a process and you pick things up as you go?

Consider this, as a worker how would you want to be communicated with to know that both you and your employer understand the expectations of each other in ensuring the procedures that are in place are being followed? In reverse, how can you expect workers to fulfil the requirements of procedures that you’ve put in place if ample opportunity for communication, understanding and engagement hasn’t taken place prior to starting work activities?

Consultation with workers is a legal requirement on employers and is also at the heart of the ISO 45001 standard, but in addition to this it just makes good heath and safety business sense! SSG offer a range of training and consultancy solutions to support you and your organisation in developing culture, procedures and many other health and safety requirements. There are also collections of free HSE guidance documents available, including HSG48 Reducing Error and Influencing Behaviour.

Source: David Wright


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