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Taking (away) responsibility?

One of the lasting impressions of my first full time employment after graduating from university was the emphasis my employer placed on safety, from day one – and every day after that.

As I drove into Fawley refinery each day I was greeted by the face of a man painted on the side of a large storage tank declaring to every person who drove through those gates “You are responsible for safety”. That was 40 years ago and it’s a message that has stayed with me – we are all responsible for our own safety and for the safety of those around us – regardless of role, seniority or job title.

So, at a conference I attended recently, I watched an extremely good role play exercise put together by a legal firm who regularly represents companies and their employees in cases investigated by HSE. The role play involved someone acting as an HSE inspector interviewing a first line supervisor, with his solicitor in attendance. The ‘incident’ involved a worker who had suffered a serious injury in the workplace. He was known to have bypassed procedures in the past and on this occasion he had performed a task and been badly injured – no doubt a scenario similar to exercises many of you reading this have sat through and learned from.

The light bulb moment for me came when the ‘inspector’ asked the ‘supervisor’ if he had considered the risks involved in the job and the potential for this worker to take short cuts which would put him as risk of harm. The supervisor’s response was clear and unequivocal "That’s not my job – that’s the health and safety manager’s responsibility."

Why light bulb? Because when the role play was over, the real solicitor told the audience that “not my responsibility” is the most common phrase they hear from supervisors, managers and workers when involved in investigations.

I asked myself, how did we get to this point? Surely the role of the health and safety professional in any organisation has to be to ensure others understand their role and their responsibilities not do it for them? The responsibility should always lay with those doing the work and those who supervise the job.

Imagine your own company in the situation I described here. If the question were posed to a supervisor in your organisation, would they know and accept their responsibility or would they point to the health and safety manager? You might want to test it out, rather than assume the answer – it could provide a very good insight into the true safety culture of your organisation.

2016-04-13