• Alex Davies
  • 2 July 2012

Culture shock

 “Compliance isn’t what you want to do – all the legal stuff is scary.”

This is just one of the comments we received in the Performance Management in FM Survey we launched earlier this year, which closed last month, and which has given us a fascinating insight into what FMs think of their industry, and how they cope with the regulatory burden increasingly being placed upon them.

In a week in which the HSE announced it was consulting on scrapping or revising 15 of its health and safety ACoPs, we’ve been analysing the results of our survey, in which the majority of respondents worry that keeping up to date with health and safety regulation is too time-consuming and expensive, and distracts them from the day-to-day running of their businesses.

Around half of respondents expect the cost of administering and implementing health and safety measures to increase over the next two to three years, after having seen that cost increase or at least stay the same over the past 12 months. And with new legislation going through Parliament all the time, or existing Acts and Regulations being amended to supposedly make them easier to work with, who can disagree?

The fact that the recent downward trend in work-related accidents in the UK was interrupted by a sudden and unpredicted spike in fatalities last year (171 deaths compared to 151 in 2009/10) means that health and safety isn’t an issue that has been solved, and if people continue to see it as a burden, never will be.

“Our chairman measures value in health and safety by not going to prison” said one particularly candid respondent, reinforcing the view that H&S is a tick box exercise that concerns itself only with blind compliance, rather than changing attitudes and prevailing culture. Of course, no one wants to risk a fine or a prison sentence, but surely compliance with health and safety should go deeper than that? It’s about instilling it in the organisation so it’s second nature.

“If you work at an organisation like Shell or any oil company, you don’t walk around the office on a mobile phone, you don’t walk down the stairs not holding the handrail or someone will actually pick you up on it.”

Indeed, the example of Shell came up again when one respondent lamented “we didn’t get shortlisted for a Shell contract as we didn’t do a full H&S induction when Shell visitors came to our building.”

When you work in a safety-critical industry, the subject of health and safety is of course given greater precedence, but this needs to be emulated as best practice across other industries too. One respondent revealed they “have more accidents in our office environment then we do in our engineering environment,” possibly because of a general public that has got so fed up with over-regulation that they become deliberately blasé and refuse to take health and safety seriously. But the associated benefits that go with a safe environment – great PR, a relaxed and happy secure workforce, and a comfortable workplace – surely are enough of an incentive to get past this attitude.

Our respondents agreed that senior management have a vital role to play in building a health and safety culture. Whilst this appears to be a challenge for some, it’s been embraced by others in innovative and creative ways, including:

  • Having it as a permanent reporting topic on board papers;
  • Driving health and safety from the CEO, ensuring every lost time incident is reported and dealt with face to face by him;
  • Making health and safety the senior manager’s number one objective, very closely followed by costs but not at its expense; and
  • Putting H&S as an agenda item on ALL meetings at all levels requiring statistics and reports of issues, causes and actions.

Driving the health and safety message from the top down has to be the way forward, and instilling that same message in all employees of paramount importance. It’s not the legal regulations, or the inherently accident-prone nature of some industries that should be feared – the real thing that’s worrying is the attitude amongst companies and individuals alike. Only 31% of FMs responding to our survey indicated that they measure their employees’ attitude towards health and safety. Now THAT’S scary. 

The full report from which these results are taken will be available to purchase as a pdf from 23 July. Please call 0871 777 8881 for more details.