Employers are facing pressures from all sides. They are currently having to balance:
- The Government urging us to return to work
- Rising levels of coronavirus infection
- Employees keen to return to the workplace
- Employees keen to remain working from home
- Commercial pressure from stakeholders
- Meeting customers’ needs and expectations
All of these are pulling in different directions, but somehow every employer has to establish how work can continue to be done safely. Especially in the face of seemingly random outbreaks and local and regional lockdowns.
An excellent article and guide from the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) was recently published. It supplements much of the advice that is already being given, but laying it out in clear language, with a very practical, balanced approach to safety.
It points out that the virus exploits weaknesses in controls and safeguards, as well as human behaviours at home and at work. And, just as it seems to subside, people start to relax and it surges again. Restrictions are eased and then imposed again without much warning.
So, it is essential to remain vigilant, agile and disciplined in how you manage your own workplace.
Using the HSE’s recommended health & safety management system of plan–do–check–act approach, employers need to control risk with strong leadership, worker involvement and sound health and safety advice – to ensure safe people, workplace, systems and equipment.
Many employers rushed into control measures, and they probably got it mostly right, but it is worthwhile to consult employees; not just because it is a legal obligation, but also because it is good practice and more likely to result in commitment to adherence, if it is something they have been involved in.
It is a useful reminder of how we can continue to operate safely in an uncertain world, as this virus seems set to be with us for some time.
The Peltzman Effect
We have also had calls from clients frustrated, as they feel that they have put in all sorts of (often expensive) measures to keep people safe, yet some are not following basic instructions on, e.g. social distancing, so in effect are taking risks.
Risk assessments invariably break down when it comes to human behaviour because we base our risk assessments on a logical process which we then expect less than completely logical people to comply with.
Another IOSH discussion has been over why people take more risks after risk assessments are completed and communicated out, which sounds illogical but can often be true. The answer is not to stop doing risk assessments, but to understand why some people react against it.
The Peltzman Effect is a theory which states that people are more likely to engage in risky behaviour when security measures have been mandated. Sam Peltzman is an economist, he noted that the more safety was mandated in cars, e.g. mandatory seat belts, the more unsafe behaviours people performed in cars.
In other words, the safer people feel, the more risk that they may decide to take. This could explain why the ‘R’ rate is once again on the increase, in spite of the fact that the Government has kept imposing various restrictions, most recently the rule of six.
The key word is ‘mandated’. People then see safety as something that is being done to them, and they have little or no control over it. The more they feel this, the more likely it is that they could be tempted to ignore the mandated rule(s).
So, how do employers overcome this? The key, as always, is about strong two-way communication so that safety is not seen as being done ‘to’ people, but ‘with’ people.
So, when considering a plan-do-check-act approach, make sure that you talk to your people. Take on board their opinions so that, the risk assessment and safe working systems that you ask people to follow they will feel involved with. And, will be more likely to engage with and undertake them in practice.
Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.