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It really is... all about the people.

“If workers don’t want to become ill or hurt and employers want their staff to be in a continuous fit state to be able to work, then what’s the problem? Everyone should be pulling together in the same direction (without the hint of any conflict)”

Yes, the world of health and safety is full of such rhetoric. I’ve heard these words spoken by at least two health and safety ‘gurus’, over the years. Unfortunately though, back in the real world, every individual, from humble shop floor, all the way up to the managing director, is different. They each have different priorities, different influences, different agendas. Each one sees the world (of work) from a slightly different angle. The realities of trying to manage health and safety; manage the people to work safely, is one of the hardest tasks in any company. The long term management vision of where they want to take a business, the conflict between productivity and safety measures, the changing social legislative and economic backdrop, are all in place and just some of the things to undermine the implementers of health and safety. i.e., the health and safety manager. It is unusual to find organisations which have grown or are growing from humble start-up ideas, or as small family concerns that are progressive and visionary in their outlook. Fortunately for me, I do work with a number of forward looking and progressive businesses. (a bulk transporter of chemicals, a heat exchanger manufacturer and a separation technology company immediately spring to mind).

One other such business I am currently working with, HD Sharman Ltd of Chapel en le Frith, manufacturers of specialist roofing materials and profiles, are the company who are most impressing me at the moment. Having kept a clean health and safety record for many years using the classic way for small businesses to be run, i.e. direct supervision and informal methods of assessing and controlling risk, they realised early enough as the business grew that they would lose control unless they changed their model. The organisation scrapped their old policy and decided to do things in a completely different way. Many organisations come to this conclusion at some point and take on the challenge of suffering the shock of a cultural change. The results can be varied and usually happen at a slow pace and under excruciating pain. However, at HD Sharman, they have put in place a new health and safety management structure to complement their new way of thinking and doing, which appears to be truly embraced by the Directors. It’s a bold and brave move, but they are doing things in the right way. After policy revisions they set about mending the internal communication shortfall (in both directions) with the work force. Plans are developed, shared and discussed. The workforce is consulted on a one-to-one basis as well as collectively. Resources are being poured into developing the right shop floor leaders combined with the roll-out of a large training program. Investment in new equipment such as the new plastic regrind mixer, which not only makes the task more efficient and improves the finished quality, but completely removes some of the old hazards such as manual handling. Investment in extraction systems, health surveillance, new technologies such as automatic noise alarms letting the staff know when its too noisy without protection, investment in a state-of-the-art canteen. These are not small token gestures.

The company want the people at the doing end of the job to be involved, take ownership, become champions and really feel proud the company they work for. And it is starting to happen. I saw it and heard it myself as I toured the workshop today. It will take more time of course to really flourish, but the workplace will become a much happier place to be, as well as healthier and safer.

The company are going as fast as they can possibly go. They are mainly doing it all by themselves (with a little direction pointing from myself). Their fantastic progress so far, has inspired me to write about them. I want all other companies out there who are struggling or facing seemingly highly challenging situations to also be enthused. It can be done. It takes grit, determination and resilience in large amounts, mixed with a large measure of compassion and if the mix is right; if the people are right; if the commitment is there at the very top, then they will also succeed. Yes, at the end of the day, one way or another, its all about the people.


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