“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Legend has it that this old saying was originally used to make the case for taking the steps necessary to prevent fires in Philadelphia instead of fighting them and cleaning up afterwards. It led to a creation of the Union Fire Company, which was composed of volunteers from all over the city. This fire company met regularly to discuss different means of protecting buildings from fire and putting them into practice. Such preventive activities were preferable to using massive funding and teams of resources to fight fires and address their damages after they were under control. In this blog, we look at how this attitude applies to organisational health and safety.
The Pound of Cure: The Trials and Tribulations of the Traditional Health and Safety Team
Think of a traditional organisational chart. There’s a person who oversees health and safety, usually supported by a small team. The health and safety director and team can be found in the corporate offices. However, most companies have offices that are spread throughout a region or around the world, and all kinds of activities related to health and safety are happening there. In addition, there are often remote workers who aren’t in any kind of office but are subject to hazards, especially if they are in charge or deliveries or do field work.
How can this small team prevent health and safety issues in such an organisation? They can’t. The best they can do is address incidents after they happen. And if that incident is a fatality, there’s no good way to mitigate that. The company’s reputation is now on fire. If you consult the Heinrich's Triangle, you’ll see that the team is handling the red activities at the top—fatalities, lost time inquiries, recorded injuries, and first aid—instead of the less devastating activities of unsafe actions and conditions.
The result is they’re overworked, carry administrative burdens that are unnecessary, and are unable to enact many prevention activities. How can they? They have no idea about most unsafe practices or near misses. So, what can be done?
The Ounce of Prevention: Making Health and Safety a Company-Wide, Cultural Concern
The fact of that matter is that safety and health activities should not be confined to a small team. All that gets you is a disgruntled contingent burdened by reacting to incidents, double entry, chasing down inputs and approvals, interrogating multiple systems, and using multiple sources to generate reports. Instead, to reduce incidents and take a proactive approach to workplace safety, a company’s culture needs to change so that anyone in harm’s way can contribute to preventing incidents.
To do this, management needs to take some big steps. First, they must stop expecting one person (or a few) to handle all incidents in the company. Since these incidents are local, it’s time to involve local teams. Often, they’re the ones that are noticing unsafe practices or near misses, but either they’re not charged with doing much, if anything, about them or they don’t know how. Also, audit and inspection processes need to be streamlined, eliminating duplicate steps like noting issues with a pen, form, and a camera that then has to be transferred later to a system.
Spreadsheets and emails should not be the top method of action management; rather, a single source that enables tracking of corrective action, additional control measures, and noncompliance with inspections is the way go to. And, finally, reports should gather, collate, and present the correct information regularly and when needed. They should include visualisations and dashboards that make it easy to pinpoint areas of concern and improvement.
That sounds great, but is it possible? Can a company that has relied for years on an overburdened health and safety team, paper, spreadsheets, and emails make the cultural changes necessary to act locally and globally? Absolutely. All it takes is technology and training.
Software, Business Intelligence (BI) and Education: The Health and Safety Version of the Fire Union Company
Shifting health and safety activities from a small, corporate team to a local and global concern isn’t as difficult as it seems. It starts by educating your local teams on what constitutes unsafe activities and near misses. Then you hit them with technology in the form of a mobile app they can use to submit information about a hazard, unsafe act, or sub-par condition in a simple form on the app that’s easy to use and follow.
The information then flows into a BI solution that visualises these conditions as charts that your leadership can use to direct and effect future activities. In addition, you encourage leadership to be active in safety, initiating conversations about safety and data compliance and showing them how they can track what others are doing with the app and the main system.
With software in place and education, you’ll prevent incidents instead of reacting to them.
Learn More about Proactive Health and Safety Management Technology
SHE Software offers health and safety management software with a BI component so that your activities are proactive instead of reactive. Watch our on-demand webinar to learn more.