The IOSH Conference in Glasgow discussed the topic of making a case for health and safety, increasing positive communication and helping H, S and E professionals to do their jobs without obstruction or prejudice.

This got me thinking ….

Imagine the scene

You’re sat in a small bar with live comedy. The room is dimly lit. You are sat towards the front near the stage (your first mistake). The comedian looks you in the eye, “What is your name” he barks. You reply obediently. “What do you do ?” Your blood runs cold. You tell yourself to make something up …. Anything, anything must be better than what I do. Estate Agent – No, Taxman – No, Death himself – No. You have to be honest, but what you have to say will lead to mockery and a room full of boiling hatred. So you say it, “I work in Health and Safety”.

Everyone around you hates you. They are all thinking of the last story they read in the Daily Mail about health and safety and how it is systematically ruining an already “Broken Britain” - Conkers Bonkers, blame claims and people tied up in health and safety paperwork, unable to do their jobs.

Frustrated you want to stand on your chair, explain what it is you really do. How you feel that people should be safe at work, how too many people are still dying in their jobs, how managers are still failing their staff and letting them suffer long term illness because of the work they do. But this is not the time or the place. So quickly you shout out “Only joking, I’m a nurse” with a smug grin on your face, knowing that’ll get you the popularity vote.

So why is it that Health and Safety is still a profession in disrepute and what can we, in the industry do, to convince our friends, peers and more importantly fellow workers that what we do is worthwhile and beneficial ?

Whenever I think about why I do what I do and why it matters I think back to my days of NEBOSH training at Basingstoke College (Oh, the glamour of it all). My Tutor told us about a particular huge (very high profile) construction project that was going on at that time and the budget of that project. Within that project budget was an allowance for two deaths. Two people could die on this project, the court cases would follow, compensation be paid out, downtime had, bad publicity be received and it was all accounted for before it even happened. Guess how many people died during this construction ? Two.

Both of the people who died were young men. Men with families and people who cared about them. They went to work one morning and they never went home again. This is a developed country in the 21st century. People just shouldn’t die at work. Money should be put into safety measures not compensation cases.

It’s not just about making sure that people don’t die, it’s about making sure that people at work are happy, safe and comfortable. That the air they breathe is fresh, the equipment they use is correct and that they feel cared about in what they do.

It’s about giving managers support, employees knowledge and director’s an understanding of their responsibilities and how this works on a practical level. It’s not about wrapping people up in cotton wool and it’s not about drowning people in paperwork, it’s about intelligent people making common sense decisions that affect the well being of an entire workforce.

Health and safety professionals need to be pragmatic not reactive, use forethought not hindsight and remember the reality not the headlines.

So the next time you read a story about how Elf  and Safety has ‘gone mad’, think about your job. Think about what would happen if you or someone you knew was hurt as a direct result of someone else’s negligence. Think about what would happen if 20 years down the line you realised, that as a direct result of something that happened in a job long forgotten, you were now suffering from a long term illness.

This happens to people everyday and will continue to happen until people treat health and safety honestly, realistically and sensibly.

For more information about Health and Safety and how it can have a positive affect on your business, click here.

If you have anything to say on this issue, please leave a comment below.

Next time I will be talking about Noise at Work.