Where’s safer to work: an exposed quarry or a comfortable office? Like most people, do you perceive your office as the safest place to work? Well surprisingly, this isn’t always the case.
We find that more incidents happen in administrative functions than in any other division of large industrial organisations with mature safety culture change programmes. And it’s a startling misconception that working at a desk is always safer than in a factory, quarry or other heavy industrial environment.
It’s an observation supported by Alison Gould, company safety advisor at British Gypsum with over 15 years health and safety experience within manufacturing plants across the UK:
“Quarries and mines are actually some of the safest places to work. In fact it’s said that the bigger the risk, the safer and more aware you are because you see risks and act accordingly.”
Perception is everything
If you put our opening question to people working on the shop floor, you’re more likely to get the correct answer. Because it’s here that you find people who’ve been exposed to the horrific consequences of poor safety culture. They realise the debilitating impact that accidents have on quality of life for their affected colleagues and friends.
In our experience, people on the shop floor perceive risk more accurately than their office-dwelling counterparts. With the latter perhaps taking more a relaxed attitude to safety so aren’t as alert and therefore less proactive, as Alison demonstrates:
“It’s difficult for people to appreciate the impact of unsafe behaviour from an office, even if risks surround them. Someone who isn’t directly interacting with machinery can’t always see the risk it poses and feel their role is simply to ‘get to their office and back’. Even if this means interacting with heavy plant in a dusty environment on the way, which necessitates the requirement to wear PPE (as was the case in my previous job).”
A positive indicator in disguise
Although alarming, this situation isn’t as bad as it sounds. In fact this misconception, perhaps manifesting itself as a higher incident rate in your organisation’s offices than any of your other business units, could actually be a valuable opportunity for you.
When you eliminate high-risk hazards with appropriate safety precautions it naturally moves your focus down the scale to lower-risk hazards, and it just so happens that these occur in the office. What you’ve discovered is in fact a positive indicator that your organisation is growing closer to safety culture maturity. And to continue that growth you must build upon your experience, as Alison explains:
“We achieved consistent and effective procedures at British Gypsum particularly through the HSE’s FOILE programme and SUSA. But now we’re digging a bit deeper into improving behaviour, realising the power of people and their ideas rather than imposing information on them. So instead of conducting a SUSA with an ‘unsafe outcome’ as a result of them not following the rules about wearing ear protection we ask questions like ‘how can we improve your training?’ It’s about discussion… understanding and better quality conversations.”
So don’t panic if your administrative staff can’t grasp your sensible ban on walking and talking on their mobile phones. It’s really just a positive indicator in disguise and your health and safety programme is moving in the right direction along the road to safety culture maturity.