The Problem with Safety Management Systems

January 31, 2016 © Copyright Glomacs

Many organisations, unfortunately, believe the solution to health and safety problems is to create a huge, overpowering management system that covers all eventualities. Once this management system is in place, they look for quick and easy, not necessarily effective, communication processes. They focus on moving information around the organisation, not conveying understanding amongst their managers and staff.

In addition, today’s computer world has led to complete information overload with many of us keeping hard copies of everything in addition to electronic copies.

As a result, employees in many organisations feel that they are merely expected to do as they are told and are never consulted. Ignorance may be bliss, but in health, safety and risk management, it’s what you don’t know that can hurt and cost you.

Many organisations devote considerable time and effort to the development and implementation of policies and procedures, whilst they invest little in building trust. As a result, workplaces are policed by rules rather than led by values.

These organisations manage by the “95 – 5” rule. Ninety-five percent of the bits of paper they produce (including safety policies and procedures) are created in response to the inappropriate actions of 5 percent or less of the work force. Consequently, rules are ignored by the 5 percent for which they were intended, and merely annoy the other 95 percent who never needed them.

To improve health and safety, we need to start building values for safe performance rather than creating huge manuals full of policies and procedures that are rarely read and generally not used by the very people they are supposed to be for.

The Problem with Safety Management SystemsFar too many organisations are over-managed and poorly led and health and safety is a game of chance. Many employees ignore the documentation and play “catch me if you can.” with management. They only wear safety equipment and follow the rules while they are being watched, but as soon as managers or supervisors leave, off it comes and they revert to unsafe practice.

The forward thinking companies that invest in building trust through the creation of “shared values” have recognised the above problem and work towards creating and sustaining a successful safety culture. They encourage everyone to behave safely because it’s the right thing to do. Human behaviour at work is guided by values and reinforcement, not forced on people by rules and punishment.

I have been providing health and safety training to senior managers for over 30 years and the most common complaint that they have relates to the sheer size of their management system. They are genuinely concerned that their organisation expects them to work within a management system that is clearly out of control.

It is essential for all of us involved in health, safety and risk management to stop for a moment and consider if our management system is an effective management tool or merely a collection of documents that weaken your employee’s ability to perform safely and efficiently.

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