Perspectives

Delivering services safely

Effective health and safety risk management should be firmly on the agendas of Service organisation leaders. Management information relating to health and safety often indicates that at a quantitative level, the fundamental activities including training and incident reporting are happening. Yet, organisations often find out, either through independent review (for instance internal audit) or during legal proceedings that in spite of this, they have failed to identify, manage, and mitigate the risk of harm.

Today’s landscape

The primary challenge when focussing too much energy on simply confirming whether these activities are ‘occurring’ is that within the UK, Services businesses operate in a self-regulatory environment; that is to say, the majority of health and safety regulations instruct organisations to ‘identify and manage’ risk, as opposed to prescribing specific operational controls and requirements. This means the quest to manage safety risk is ever evolving, informed by new experiences and incidents, or being modified by the changing cost and practicality of selecting particular control measures.

For example, the arrival of e-learning, which enabled mass training of large employee populations at a much lower cost than ‘classroom’ based training meant that training could now reach employees at a scale that was previously cost prohibitive. In turn, a more reasonable cost to ‘train’ increases the expectations on businesses to provide that training pervasively.

Services organisations need to be in tune with both what they can learn internally, and how health and safety risk mitigation is evolving in industry in order to deliver on their duty to identify and manage associated risk.

Opportunity in risk

While this expansive duty to can seem challenging, it also presents great opportunity, allowing health & safety efforts to focus on risk reducing activities, rather than purely compliance, which might be more concerned with a tick-in-the-box than preventing harm.

In the services industry the opportunities to develop a more tailored approach to safety risk management are amplified given the large employee populations and geographic spread of operations. Examples of the areas in which applying new approaches or technologies to actively manage health and safety risks include:

  • Advanced data analytics, combining safety information, such as incidents, with operational data, like employee tenure, training history or financial performance, could better pin-point where pro-active health and safety activities, such as auditing, training or enhanced specialist support will have the greatest impact;
  • Employees could report incidents and hazards with little more effort than is required to speak to Siri or Alexa, lowering the barrier to reporting, helping organisations to learn more than ever about health and safety risk in their business; and
  • Risk information could be captured and communicated using images and video – more impactful formats, readily understood by a mixed language workforce (compared to traditional written risk assessments or operating procedures). Of equal importance, videos better translate risk information to management teams remote from the operation, and are much quicker to capture than creating a written record.

Seize the opportunity

Seizing these opportunities requires new thinking – a dissection of existing health and safety processes in order to identify the absolute requirements of that process, and re-build from the ground up with a renewed focus on risk management rather than blanket compliance.

Re-imagining how organisations approach safety risk management requires bold thinking – and a willingness to contemplate the abandonment of some of the ‘custom and practice’ approaches which were developed to respond to regulation in an era when pen and paper were our core tools.

Effective health and safety management will continue to be a vital requirement of a great Services business; the way organisations manage this holds the potential for substantial evolution. However, each organisation needs a catalyst, a bold thinker who is willing to ask “why do we do this?” in order to stimulate conversation around what practices should look like in the future.

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