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Tim Howell discusses how and why employees’ health and safety knowledge should be regularly refreshed

There is a wide-ranging campaign to encourage more people to enter the landscape and horticultural sector, which already employs over 170,000 people in the UK. Our sector is under pressure; the recruitment pool is reducing in size and the impacts of Brexit are still unknown. Not enough people are joining our industry, and it lacks the diversity that it needs to thrive. The labour market is increasingly flexible, transient and in some cases driven by small increases above the living wage levels. Health and safety is paramount.

I spend a lot of my time reflecting on how our workplace can be made more attractive to people. Increasing its value to allow better wages and rewards will help, but for people to thrive they need to work somewhere with long-term job security, where they can develop their career and have a safe working environment where their wellbeing is highly valued.

How often do management or recruiters add safety considerations into the role description? How often do we commit to keeping our people safe when ‘selling’ ourselves to prospective employees? That’s something the industry can do better, to take advantage of the therapeutic perception that many people have about what we do.

So, are our recruitment challenges and lack of diversity due to safety or wellbeing concerns?

Back in 1992 I remember the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulation coming in, which meant that employers had specific duties towards the wellbeing and safety of their employees. The regulations changed the way we manage our workplace. It made the provision of personal protective equipment, training, maintenance and checking of equipment mandatory. It changed the way we work for the better. The role of HSE Manager was created in many of our businesses and they were tasked to produce documented safe-working practices; this was not an easy transition for me to accept, yet now it forms a part of my daily routine.

These regulations were significant in our industry because they gave prescriptive, legislative instruction on how we should be managing our health and safety within the workplace. Even though we were managing the safety aspect under the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974, the new regulations were much more precise and comprehensive.

It’s so important to keep safety messages fresh and up to date. I often use the analogy of airline safety messages: at worst the stewards deliver a half-hearted message that hasn’t changed for decades, at best airlines are innovative with the way they deliver the message; you can guarantee these messages are the ones you remember.

Similarly, where I cycle in the South Downs, I see close-up the lack of investment in safety messages on our roads. On one particularly dangerous corner; previous investment in non-slip, coloured tarmac has eroded and been patched over a ‘SLOW’ message that now reads ‘OW’, which seems somewhat appropriate.

At Mitie, we keep the messages alive through regular training and update sessions, annual training events and specific safety campaigns. We use both print and video media, often featuring individuals who have been involved in an incident, to relay their story. We also introduce annual innovations, which require something to be physically handed to an employee, so that they remember the message. We operate with a simple strapline of, ‘if it’s not safe, don’t do it’.

My message is consistent: We should collaborate, share data and best practice to reduce the most common causes of injury and lost time. Our industry needs to be seen as an exciting, safe career that attracts great people, who will continue to strengthen its value for many years to come.

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