23 September 2010
Increasing co-operation between employees and management is critical in difficult economic times, a major safety conference in Glasgow will hear today.
The RoSPA Scotland Occupational Safety and Health at Work Congress will learn how businesses that involve their workers in health and safety decision making will reap dividends in terms of fewer incidents and injuries and cost savings.
Delegates will hear about an investigation into current practices in workplaces across Scotland.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents was commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive to investigate worker involvement in health and safety (WISH) within non-unionised workplaces in Scotland. The initiative built on evidence that organisations with “properly involved” unionised safety representatives achieved better health and safety performance than those without such representation.
The investigation found the concept of worker involvement was low on the agendas of most employers and there was an unwillingness to invest money and resources in the issue. Despite this, most businesses interviewed by RoSPA involved workers in day-to-day activities, although often this was not thought of as “involvement”.
It found that positive worker involvement was feasible, and happened in some non-unionised workplaces - but was likely to follow an employer’s agenda and be confined to practical consultation rather than anything approaching joint decision making.
It also discovered that effective WISH needed the support of the managing director, or a senior director, and so top management must be convinced of its worth.
Karen McDonnell, head of RoSPA Scotland, who will present the findings with researcher Howard Fidderman, said: “Businesses that want to improve the way they manage health and safety are often failing to make use of their single biggest asset, namely the people they employ.
“Unless they involve their workers in day-to-day decision making about health and safety issues or about longer term plans, they will not be able to benefit from employees’ suggestions or tap into their knowledge of what actually goes on in the workplace. And unless they actively seek employees’ views on options to improve safety and health they may face difficulty in getting their buy-in later on. Openness and involvement will build trust on both sides.
“Involvement can take time, skill and patience but it pays massive dividends in firms both large and small. And it really can save lives and reduce injuries.”
The research comprised telephone interviews, interactive workshops and case study development.
Although organisations reported different barriers to worker involvement, the most commonly cited were lack of resources, knowledge, time and imperative. Other barriers mentioned by a significant number of participants were: fear of managers; lack of respect shown by managers; transient workforces; remote and peripatetic workers; and cultural attitudes within the workplace, local communities and wider society.
The report includes several hints and tips for businesses wanting to begin a programme of worker involvement, including: patience - engaging workers takes time; ensuring senior management is visibly supportive of involvement; explaining what you are doing; and running an opinion survey and being seen to act rapidly on some suggestions.
Shona Robison MSP, minister for public health, said worker involvement in health and safety was important. She said: “The Scottish Government is committed to improving the health and wellbeing of the working-age population and increasing sustainable economic growth.
“We need to ensure we have workplaces that keep workers safe and productive. Investment in workplace health and wellbeing has been shown to repay itself, often many times over, through improved productivity, better motivation of staff, reduced sickness absence and increased staff retention.
“The workforce is the main asset of any organisation and employees have a key role to play in helping to shape decision making on health and safety.”
Today’s conference at the Hilton Glasgow hotel will be attended by representatives of some of the leading public and private sector organisations in Scotland. The event is sponsored by the Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives and Allianz, and chaired by Jim Moyles, health, safety and environment manager, of Doosan Babcock, the 2010 winners of RoSPA’s Sir George Earle Trophy.
The Worker Involvement in Health and Safety: What Works? report can be found at www.rospa.com/occupationalsafety/currentcampaigns/wish/.