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Responsibility in Safety - Who & Why?

Head of QHSE, John Mills shares his thoughts on who is responsible for safety, and whether safety measures and safe working environments are really enough.

Who is responsible for safety?

It is often an interesting question to raise and discuss. With many stories appearing in the news from time to time sharing a safety breach, a serious injury or disaster within an organisation, it really makes you think, who is responsible for safety in an organisation?

Companies can employ skilled and experienced professionals and provide further training and support, put systems in place to inform them how to work safely (permit to work, processes and instructions) and also provide appropriate PPE, but things can still go wrong.

Yes, companies are responsible for their employees legally, but also morally responsible for how they work, but the real ‘nut to crack’ is to develop the workforce culture to one where nobody unknowingly creates unsafe environments, carries out an unsafe action or even deviates from processes and procedures they should follow. The cause of the majority of incidents that materialise are, you guessed it, good old human error.

safety sign blue sky

What can be done?

Companies will audit, inspect, check and analyse a plethora of data to take steps in implementing behavioural safety or reinforce safety cultures which aim to assist and help working safely overall, but how successful are they? With so many ongoing changes and new challenges arising in the workplace daily, their success may only be nominal in some respects.

Assurance and compliance of work carried out are critical areas in an organisation to focus on getting right and must be key. Risk management is also paramount to ensure organisations spend the bulk of their time on the biggest risks and operations they have – prioritising by risk is a must.

In today’s world we now see a spotlight on mental health, and rightly so – the body and mind go hand in hand; a healthy mind, ‘the human engine room’ can support us all each day in our own individual actions.

Companies who listen to employees but also take time to engage with them as well, can find success rather than adopting an approach that enforces rules and requirements.

Is it enough?

Despite huge overall improvements in the reduction of accidents, safety incidents and fatalities in general declining over the years, people are and will still sadly suffer serious incidents at work when things don’t quite go to plan. The steer towards automation in both life and business could eventually remove the employee physically from risk in some environments which of course is much safer, but on the other hand, this environment then also presents new challenges.

Companies are using updated systems, AI programmes and automation, but behind this is human interaction which brings risks and other factors companies must consider as they evolve their business structure approach and ultimately their risk appetite.

Wellbeing and mental health awareness has rightly been given a spotlight but can also be dangerous in masking other contributing factors when things don’t quite go to plan, when a company must consider, manage and find a successful way to integrate humans, systems and innovation whilst making all of them sync together seamlessly. The future of safety will be interesting for sure.