You can’t have missed the headlines recently about junior doctors striking over proposed changes to their contract. At the heart of the argument between doctors and the government is the premise that doctors should not be made to work excessive hours, which is what would happen if the proposed changes to their contract go through. That would be neither good for their health, nor the health of the patients they are working to protect. It’s a classic case of how cost can so easily be placed above safety.
Our latest whitepaper on workplace safety discusses the elements required for a strong safety culture and the prioritisation of safety over cost is critical to many of these.
Employees, regardless of where they work, should be able to do so in conditions in which safety is central. Employees should have the tools, the equipment, the information and support they need to enable them to work in a safe way. And employees should be trained, frequently and repetitively, on safety issues so working in a safe way becomes second nature. Whereas the physical aspects – the equipment and tools – are usually accounted for, the provision of adequate and appropriate support, knowledge and information often gets overlooked as deadlines, objectives and budget are given precedence.
The health and wellbeing of employees needs to be prioritised so they can work without undue stress and pressure. Stress, if not managed, can reduce the ability of an employee to carry out their work in a safe and effective way and can be responsible for increased accident and injury rates. Sadly the pressures of targets mean people are often pushed into working longer and harder than they can or should. In the case of the junior doctors, sleep deprived doctors working long hours in an already a stressful job would be an accident waiting to happen.
Thirdly, leadership and management commitment are fundamental to the creation of a strong safety culture. Leaders should embrace the foundations for a strong safety culture by actively encouraging two-way communication and engendering trust. They should talk about safety as a priority that can be proactively and positively embraced and managed. Leaders and managers are the ones that set the priorities and if they are seen to be placing business performance over safety the whole safety culture crumbles. Senior doctors may have come out in support of their subordinates, taking on shifts during the strikes but, in the case of the NHS, these aren’t the leaders that make the difference. The leaders in government, fighting for contracts that push safety down the priority list, give doctors and patients little reason to trust them.
In a poll conducted on behalf of The Independent it was found that the majority of people thought that doctors were right to strike. That putting cost over safety is not the right thing to do. But interestingly, support for the strike was far greater among people working in the public sector than those working for private sector companies (70% vs. 58%). Is this significant? Is it more acceptable for the private sector to overlook safety in order to hit their performance targets? Of course not, for you only have to pick up the newspaper to see the impact that accidents can have for the private sector. The damage to customer perceptions and loyalty and the brand and the inevitable significant financial implications. Putting safety ahead of cost is not only preventing accident but is in itself a cost saving exercise. Prioritise safety and you will, as a result, priorities performance.
Our whitepaper provides guidance on how to assess workplace safety and identify how to develop a strong culture of safety. You can read more about it here.