I will never forget being 19 years old, fresh out of a fitness instructor apprenticeship and loving the active life, when I started a job for a large health club chain. On my first day – indeed in my first hour – I was handed the “Health & Safety Bible” and I was asked to read it. This monster of a yellow folder was about 4 inches thick and I remember thinking to myself: how on Earth am I supposed to remember all of this?!
I can pretty much trace back my passion for breaking down the barriers of health and safety to this moment. This moment, plus the realisation that, as much as people wanted to get through to young and old alike, they just weren’t quite hitting the mark on engagement. Wielding a clipboard and adopting a condescending tone does not work. Neither does scaring people into health and safety with disciplinary action; and forcing people into it just creates a “tick box” mentality with zero understanding.
I wanted to do it differently… I wanted to make an impact…
My first opportunity to engage people in health and safety came in the leisure industry, where the age of the audience is relatively young, and the turnover of staff high. You did not have long to instill the important stuff and you knew you could not be everywhere at once.
I have always formed the basis of training anyone on the HASAWA Section 7, where it states that employees need “to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work”.
I always base how I train on getting across that all people who work there are responsible for health and safety – not just me. Getting this through to the lifeguards I worked with opened many doors with regard to hazard reporting, following safe systems of work, attending training and being engaged. It was not an effort to get them to be part of developing a risk assessment, as they understood the importance of their role within it.
When I moved into the retail industry, I applied the same logic in order to build a positive culture around health and safety. Getting people to understand and relate to Section 7 was half the battle won. Although people saw me as “the face” of health and safety – the person people came to with OSH queries – asking them to understand their responsibility meant that the change started to happen. I would count it as a win if a manager asked their team to complete desk assessments to make sure their work stations were set up well. Team members came to me to report something that before would have before been seen as “someone else’s job” and some even put themselves forward to be first aiders.
As part of my desire to shake things up I worked on breaking down health and safety terminology. Not using jargon or spouting legislation at people, instead looking for relatively simple ways to explain things to them – bringing health and safety into the modern world, engaging in ways that were effective, just much less formal. Things like using puns, memes and videos to appeal to my audience. Asking for selfies (with Snapchat filters of course) to demonstrate that a team had completed a fire drill, and making first aid flags for an office space where finding out who the first aiders were was a challenge!
The more accessible health and safety is, the fewer barriers there are to understanding. Of course, in the background, the formal “sign off” still had to be completed, but the teams had fun and the training presented ways to learn that engaged them along the way.
My journey continues, and as I learn more myself, I look at new ways to bring personality to different aspects of health and safety and continue to spread the word that we are not just “the clipboard mafia”.
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