10 key points to inspiring greater worker involvement ....
- Ask what workers think: Too many people assume they know what workers jobs are about. A key to developing more effective worker involvement is to ask for their opinions. And if they give their opinions do not just ignore them, discuss them and, where possible, act upon them.
- Make sure the consultation process works: Many managers believe workers to be solely concerned with pay. Yet they need to create the environment and culture where workers feel comfortable about raising issues. In the consultation process, by discussing issues with workers, their awareness is immediately raised by the dialogue. Their expectation is also raised. At this stage, managers can identify what a problem may be, possible options to solve it and seek the workers views. They may have possible solutions of their own. If action is taken as a result, workers are more likely to ‘buy in’ to the solution or control measures than if they are just ordered to do something. If the resulting measures require workers to comply with certain procedures or wear Personal Protective Equipment they are more likely to co-operate with managers if they know why the measures are needed and have agreed to them.
- Keep information simple: The more complicated that procedures, documents, method statements etc are, the more likely it is that they will be misunderstood, misinterpreted or ignored. Keep all documentation simple, use photographs or videos to demonstrate what is needed where ever possible.
- Talk the Talk: Many communications surveys reveal that most people prefer to receive information through ‘face-to-face contact. While sophisticated information technologies can be very useful a mistake that is often made is using an e-mail where a discussion is needed.
- Support managers: Some organisations think they can introduce new systems and managers should just apply it straightaway. Managers need to be consulted and their views taken into account in a similar way to workers. Managers and supervisors can have a great influence over the behaviour of workers. It follows that they should have the direction, support, training and dialogue with senior managers to give them the confidence to positively engage with the workforce.
- Promote successes: In health and safety, it is often the negative consequences of failure that is promoted. While failure can inspire some people onto greater things, most people are uplifted by success. In one food factory, ‘before and after’ photographs were used to publicise improvements in the process equipment where workers had suggested changes to improve safety and productivity. These were posted on the factory production office wall with the names of those who had put the suggestions forward. Awards for health and safety improvements can also be used to inspire others to look for ways of improving current arrangements.
- Check and make sure: A common complaint from workers is that they report problems but do not see any action or receive feedback. In an age where computers make the circulation of vast amounts of information easy, checking that action has been completed is a key step for managers. Not only does telling workers the problems they raised have been resolved, it improves dialogue between the manager and employees. They are more likely to report problems in the future if they think their views will be taken seriously. Also if the proposed action cannot be taken, most workers appreciate being given feedback as to why something cannot be done.
- Risk assessments: Getting workers directly involved with the risk assessment process is a good way for managers to develop safe systems of work that are likely to be effective. By harnessing the practical knowledge workers have about their jobs, it is more likely that control measures identified by the risk assessments will be effective. Having been involved with the process, workers are more likely to comply with the resulting control measures as a result.
- Promote a dialogue: Communication can be defined as the ‘science and practice of transmitting information’. This implies a one way process where sending information is seen as the key issue. While this is vital in any organisation, it is equally important that those who receive the information understand what it means. By giving feedback a dialogue – two way discussions - can be opened up. This allows the sender of the information to confirm that the workers understand what is required. It also allows workers to question things that they may not understand of have get the wrong idea about. This underpins other points in this list to help establish an open culture. This helps create an environment which empowers workers to make a positive contribution in making organisations safer, healthier to work in and rub more efficiently.
- Lead from the top: The culture of an organisation can be significantly influenced by the Chief Executive Officer, Board or owner. As the Health and Safety Executive have made clear, thel lead must come from the top. If workers see and hear that the senior executives see health and safety as a key priority, they are more likely to respond positively.
On the other hand if the managers know that the senior executive’s words are phoney, they are not likely to promote a positive approach to health and safety. Workers will quickly see a difference between the supposed importance the Board gives to health and safety and the lack of application where they work. Improved worker involvement coupled with a genuine positive lead from the senior executives can help close the ‘reality gap’ between the aims of the Board and the actual practices at the workplace.
‘Leaders there have to be, and these may appear to rise above their fellow men, but in their hearts
they know only too well that what has been attributed to them is in fact the achievements of the team to which they belong.’
Leonard Cheshire: The Hidden Word pp 98-99