Consultation is not a dirty word

I was talking with a potential client about their workplace, what they had in place regarding health and safety. All the usual stuff that a health and safety professional would ask.

All was going well, I may still take them on as a client as I think they want to do the right thing in terms of responsibility and duty to those who work for them.

I asked a question which I sort of had an idea what the answer would be.

How did I know what the answer would be?

Because the reply is a stock answer that many would give.

What was the question?

"How do you communicate and consult with your employees?"

What was the answer they gave?

"Well, when we have owt to tell them we will tell them"

The number of organisations out there that do "Consultation" poorly outweighs those that do it well.

I am hoping that this blog, number 2 in our series of short "Health and Safety, the basics" blogs will help reader take something inspiration from and implement back at work.

Here at ECSHE we are keen to engage with workers, managers, business owners as well as health and safety professionals to spread the word that health and safety is not a necessary evil but a business tool to grow your brand, build you a reputation worthy of your company name and image. To win you business and increase your profit margins.

So consultation is not a dirty word!!!!!! As a business you may think that your product is your most valuable product or the buildings that you occupy are. But what about your workers? In my opinion, your workers are your most valuable asset. Worth their weight in gold (In some instances) that's another blog!!!

What is consultation?

I will first tell you what it is not.

  • It is not a manager telling employees "the way it is"

  • Its not just putting a poster on a workshop wall.

  • Consultation is not workers demanding certain things!

  • Its not pretending to consult when a decision is already made.

So what actually is consultation.

There are different reasons for consulting with the workforce and various pieces of legislation that require employers to consult workers, some of these include:

  • EU Directive to consult on a business' economic situation. On employment prospects and on decisions that will lead to substantial changes in the organisation or contractual decision such as redundancies (covered also in the "Collective Redundancies and Transfer of Undertakings" regulations.

  • Business transfers.

  • Procedures to cover "Works council" to provide transitional information.

  • Occupational pension consultation under the social security pensions act 1975.

  • Health & Safety.

It is the latter that we are going to highlight here in this blog. The law requires consultation with employees on health and safety matters at work.

There are 2 pieces of legislation that covers consultation:

  1. Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977. This regulation covers organisations where trade unions are recognised.

  2. Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 where trade unions are not in the workplace.

So which ever regulation is applicable to your business, the first point to make is that you are in breach of legislation if you do not abide by the requirements. For more information follow the link below.

Why consult? What are the benefits?

So apart from the legislation, why else should we consult? As with any health and safety legislation, this in itself is not always a good enough reason for some.

Businesses will always sit up and listen if there are financial benefits in anything that they get involved in! Health and Safety is an integral part of a business (or should be) that can save or even make money.

The image shows just some ways in which a disengaged workforce could cost a company money. A downturn in productivity through "presenteeism" which can be worse than absenteeism for a business.

If this resembles your workforce then you need to make some serious readjustments.

Earlier we mentioned that your workforce are your most valuable asset. You spend money training people, up-skilling people, investing in them to be able to deliver. Talented individuals will leave and will be hard to replace.

All these are hidden costs to a business and certainly costs that can be done without.

As you can see by the graphic, 70% of all human errors are attributed to organisational failures. Errors cost money and can be avoided.

Who knows best about an activity being carried out? Yes, the person carrying out that task. There is nothing worse than having a procedure or instruction that does not work, one that has been written by someone in an office who does not know the activity. There may be a better, safer way of doing something. Consulting the worker may improve an activity, make it quicker, make it more cost effective and less likely for it to go wrong. Consult the workforce, improve your procedures, reduce the 70% and increase profit margins.Get it right first time after all re-work is a costly business!

Get it right and then the chances of an accident are reduced. Accidents cost money:

  • Increased insurance premiums.

  • Compensation.

  • Fines/enforcement

  • Lost production

  • Overtime

  • re-training

  • Worker replacement

  • Reputation

There are many case studies where the benefits of consultation are obvious, take your time to seek these out and read them. All have many things in common, accident reduction, attracting talented people to the business, reputations winning contracts, projects coming in ahead of time and budget. Sickness and absence rates are down in almost all cases. In 1 case study at a company called Babcock Marine, profits of 8% were attributed to worker engagement.

Problem solving initiatives helped reduce issues with noise, vibration, dermatitis and legal compliance. Improved behaviors and a healthier culture were noted.

Take note of suggestions put forward by your employees. These are often very valuable snippets of information. Yes you may get some gripes and suggestions that you may feel are wasting your time but you will get some that you can use to improve your business. Every now and then you will uncover a little gem.

There are a number of ways to get engaged and consult your workforce, here are a few tips:

  1. Plan a programme of joint inspections, invite workers or representatives. Ensure there is a fair proportion of workers to management.

  2. Communicate this programme, notice boards, payslips, pre-job briefs.

  3. Empower an employee to run them.

  4. Address strategic issues.

  5. Resolve disagreements, don't let them fester.

  6. Set up a safety committee.

  7. Have joint working parties.

  8. Have a suggestion box.

  9. Always feedback to employees.

  10. Use a consultant or in house safety officer/advisor.

If you think that your workplace needs a helping hand with regard to worker engagement, consultation and participation or you want to bridge a gap if your management and workers are distancing themselves from each other, there may be a behavioral problem and a negative culture then get in touch ecshe can help.

With your workforce onboard improvements will be made, money will be saved and your business will grow. Ultimately your establishment will be a safer and harmonious environment.

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