A Case of Misplaced Loyalty: the Employer – Worker Relationship – HSE People

It has been said that, in recent years, great progress has been made in the safety of work environments and equipment, as well as in the materials used. We have devised increasingly refined rules on how to organize companies, work environments, work processes and their interrelations, on how to train workers in various activities.

Sometimes, this effort was not matched by a similar decrease in accidents and injuries. The weak point seems to be the human factor: every now and then, workers are their own main enemies, because they resist the adoption of good safety practices in the workplace.

The worker, consciously or unconsciously, can engage in behaviours that result in little or no support for good safety practices. One of the most relevant issues in this respect is the relationship with the hierarchy, with the employer.

The worker, at times, develops a feeling of misunderstood loyalty with the employer which, often in small organizations, is perceived as “close”. These are those conditions in which, for example, safety is seen as a productive and economic burden, and the worker lends himself to relieving the employer, in part or in whole, of this burden. Often the company, the organization, is perceived as an extension of the family, and laws, regulations, and inspections, are seen as something that disturbs their tranquillity. For example, there are known cases of workers reluctant to apply for recognition of an occupational disease because of exposure to asbestos, given that they have developed a friendship with their employer for decades. Of course, the process by which safety is treated as a trivial matter, and of little importance, can take place in the good faith of the employer, with the misunderstanding of the informal messages it sends out. If the employer is more inclined to make observations relating to the time taken to work or to complain about the economic weight of running a business, and never reminds his collaborators to comply with safety regulations, it is normal that the latter are more careful to improve their work performance, rather than following the rules for safe execution.

Not to mention the messages that are explicitly issued by the employer or by the entire hierarchical chain: the underestimation of the dangers, the commiserating devaluation of everything concerning safety in the workplace, such as people, PPE, rules, are a tremendous example.

Returning to workers, the older or more experienced ones can sometimes refuse to adopt safe working practices for two reasons: the first is when it comes to the introduction of new activities, equipment or procedures, due to the natural resistance to innovation that characterizes the majority of people. But the problems may also be due to the claim, widespread among the most experienced workers, that their experience or the skills they have achieved can give them better control of operations. This is the reason for several accidents, due to lightness, to the fact that it was decided to follow a shortcut with respect to ordinary practice, to impromptu changes made on equipment and machines.

At the other end of the experience, younger and less experienced workers are prone to lukewarmly accepting safety practices in the company because they are still disoriented, due to their lack of experience in the tasks and in the workplace: they have not yet evaluated the “measure” with which to relate in the company; whether their attitude will be considered acceptable or will they be regarded as troublemakers. The low evaluation they have of themselves is also relevant, especially when they are at the beginning of their career and occupy the humblest jobs: they consider any working condition acceptable, especially in conditions of joblessness, with gratitude because, precisely, they must gain experience.

A relevant aspect of the opposition, open or creeping, of workers to the use of good safety practices is a consequence of a recurring condition in human groups: the herd effect, when the personal critical capacity is completely cancelled while waiting for orders. And since a significant part of the behaviours that can be observed in the workplace can be the consequence of informal messages such as conducts, which workers observe or infer from company management, it becomes essential for this to be aware of the importance of behaving in public consistent with the objectives of the organization’s policy, considering that every occasion is important to give a message.

Clearly, it is the responsibility of the company management, in planning related to the OHS management, to bear in mind that these factors can have a heavy impact on the result. Whether the goal is the minimum, that is, compliance with the law, the more so if more ambitious goals are set.

Follow this link to read the full article: A Case of Misplaced Loyalty: the Employer – Worker Relationship – HSE People

OHS: what has the pandemic changed? – HSE People

On December 31st, 2019, the Beijing office of WHO, the World Health Organization, the UN health organization, was informed of some cases of pneumonia discovered in the city of Wuhan, Hubei province, China. On January 3rd, 2020, 44 cases were confirmed and the cause, a new type of Coronavirus, was isolated on January 7. Its genetic sequence was shared for study purposes on January 12th: COVID-19 (COronaVIrus Disease 2019) became official. On January 13th, the government of Thailand announced the first case of COVID-19 outside China, on January 15 it was the turn of Japan, on the 20 of the Republic of Korea. The first WHO report, on January 21, reported 282 confirmed cases, the next day 314. On January 23, the government of the People’s Republic of China imposed a lockdown on Wuhan and in the province of Hubei, in an attempt to quarantine the centre of the epidemic, blocking a population of 57 million people: only one person per household was allowed to go out to buy food, every two days. On the same day, the first case exported to the United States was ascertained, on the 25th two cases in the EU, in France, on the 28th in Germany.

How much has changed in the world of work since January 30th, 2020, when the WHO issued an “International Public Health Emergency” announcement?

The work

The first thing that has certainly changed is the work itself. For many people it has simply disappeared, many companies have had to close, curtail, or suspend their activities. These are the ones that moved and brought people together, such as the tourism, hospitality, and entertainment industries. Other people, who have been fortunate enough to be able to continue working, have seen a new burden of concern associated with their business, such as health workers who have decided to leave their home to rent apartments where they can live alone, to protect their family members from the possibility of infection. The shop assistants and people in contact with the public, those who must use public transport to get to work. Remote work has imposed itself for all those activities for which it was possible, including school and university.

The procedures

The obsessive respect for procedures, which once belonged to the most dangerous productive sectors, has extended to everyday work: we have defined rules, paths, new working methods. People in contact with the public must constantly remember to regularly sanitize their hands and objects that may have been touched by others and to respect personal distances and safety rules to avoid getting infected. Strict protocols have been defined for the mutual protection of workers.

The equipment

Strategies for the prevention of COVID-19 contagion have brought to the fore the need to use equipment beyond their usual field of application. Respiratory protection masks, for example, from personal protective equipment to be used only for some specific activities, have now become an article of clothing: it is impossible to circulate without. Similarly, face protection screens have spread, once used mainly by welders, those who used grinder machines and gardeners. Transparent protection barriers for shop assistants and operators exposed to the public are back in vogue, as in old post offices and work activities cannot do without hand sanitizing liquids and signalling tapes to delimit transit routes.

The psychology

The factor on which the COVID-19 pandemic has still had an incalculable impact is the psychological one. In recent months we have had to limit as much as possible the meetings with our loved ones, friends and relatives; learning to keep your distance when we meet another person, to the point of glaring at those who get too close to us on the subway or in the elevator. We must limit the trips from home to those strictly necessary, to go to and from work and buy food and necessities and we have had to undergo increasingly longer remote working sessions. In this way we had to exchange meetings with videoconferences, thus giving up a fundamental part of our being, sociality.

Sociality, then, which has become even more reduced and complicated for those who work from home: a certain neglect that takes us when we are not in contact with our fellow men has allowed us, little by little, to let the barriers that separate private life from work dissolve, also because, very often, the only human relationships that remain are those during work.

What to expect from the future?

This pandemic has resulted in human losses, at the time of writing these notes there are nearly 58 million cases in the world, of which 1,372,182 fatal, and damage to our economies. The feeling is that, if it will be possible to recover from the latter, and the recoveries that have taken place in the various countries in the intervals between the various upsurge peaks, comfort this thought, we do not yet know how to assess the psychological damage that our societies are suffering.

It is to be hoped that, within a few years, the distribution of vaccines will allow us to return to the normalcy of our pre-pandemic life: travels, meetings. Probably, together with the acquired comforts of being able to make a videoconference instead of a trip or to shop online instead of lugging heavy shopping carts, we will have acquired new vulnerabilities in our human relationships. So, we must remember right now that a mature company cannot limit itself to mere compliance with the OHS standard: it must look at the worker as something more than a subject protected by law. He/she is rather the most valuable business asset, to be enhanced and enabled to develop its potential.

The business climate relating to interpersonal relationships within an organization will have to be analysed and made the subject of plans for its improvement, with training interventions on the various managerial levels, because a bad climate affects the productivity of workers. Even before the pandemic, research in the Republic of Ireland found that, during their working life, two out of five workers were subjected to unpleasant conditions such as obsessive checks, unreasonable workloads, impossible goals, or were denied important information for their work. One in three workers complained that they were intimidated, humiliated, and reproached in abusive terms. One in forty workers has experienced violent acts in the workplace. The pandemic is an opportunity to rethink structurally our organization and the way we relate each other for working purposes and correct these dynamics.

Follow this link to read the full article: OHS: what has the pandemic changed? – HSE People

Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko from Pexels

The management of HSE documentation in construction companies – HSE People

Document management is a critical aspect in HSE systems in all kind of companies and especially in construction ones. Even more so, if they follow a management system, certified according to BS OHSAS 18001:2007, the new ISO 45001:2018 or ISO 14001:2015. Construction companies have the peculiarity that often their organization is temporary, linked to the needs of individual projects, and they have a weak supervision of corporate processes. This means that, even the big players, design the documentation management systems of their projects more according to the skills of the individual managers who have the good fortune to recruit, rather than because of well-considered corporate decisions. In the long run, this is proving to be a factor of weakness of these organizations, especially when they find themselves competing in the international market, where other organizations have made radical choices in this regard some years already.

Which documents

The management of documentation relating to safety and the environment in a construction company can be declined in various aspects; the main one concerns the ordinary management of documents functional to the definition of the company management system, their distribution, storage and withdrawal, in particular, of:

  • policies;
  • manuals;
  • procedures

Then there are the records of the activities defined by company policies and procedures, such as:

  • risk assessment;
  • training;
  • health surveillance;
  • monitoring and measurements in the workplace;
  • accident and injury investigation;
  • internal reporting.

Policies and procedures can concern production, with the provision of instruments to organize and control key activities such as, for example:

  • use, management and maintenance of machines and equipment;
  • work permits;
  • hot works;
  • work at height;
  • work in confined spaces.
  • atmospheric emissions and discharges;
  • waste management;
  • noise;
  • storage and use of hazardous materials.

Letters and communications of various kinds are also to be considered. For contracted activities, it is almost normal practice for the client to ask to be informed about plans and business processes, sometimes going so far as to subordinate the contractor’s operations to his approval of these. Furthermore, in these cases, the sharing of on-site monitoring data, letters and periodic reporting is a common practice.

Organization of the company and organization of the project

A company of this kind organizes its activity by projects, which means that the management of the documentation, its distribution, the collection of records and the reporting must have a first synthesis at this level, but must also be coordinated in more areas, department, territorial and corporate units.

Normally this type of activity is managed through the formal preparation of a set of more or less in-depth information, the actual application of which and the relative administration of records and reports is carried out with different degrees of informality which, it must be said, entail as many degrees of inefficiency. In recent years, however, the development of particular software platforms for sharing information and an increased need for competitiveness of companies, if not the specific requests of particularly professional clients, has led many of these to think about the adoption of PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) platforms, identifying the management of information related to the development of the project as a strategic factor for the success of the project.

A company that intends to equip itself with a tool of this kind, starting from the assumption that it has already implemented a management system, should first of all check the degree of formality with which this is applied: although PLM platforms have dramatically evolved in recent years in terms of simplicity and user-friendliness, their use still involves a certain level of discipline in the company. For an organization that manages its processes widely in an unofficial way, switching to a setting of all processes in this way can be too big a mouthful, which will simply be ignored by operators, who are faced with the need to radically change their way to work, they will continue to behave as they always had.

Therefore, it is better to privilege an introduction step by step, and then the circumstances will help to define the priorities: if it is a conveniently planned improvement measure, you can start from the highest level or strategic processes, and then expand the system to the rest of organization. It may happen that the need to adopt a system of this kind comes from external solicitations: a customer or a partner. In this case it will be necessary to make a virtue of necessity, and our plans will be dictated from the outside.

A phased approach

In any case, it would be advisable for the introduction of a PLM system, even limited to only some business processes, not to prescind from a broader evaluation and planning. This should serve to avoid the adoption of solutions without the possibility of development, closed in on themselves.

Originally published on HSE People.

ISO 45001 and COVID-19 – Part Two – HSE People

When the OHS management system has been designed and implemented for the first time, the activities that have been carried out to meet the requirement have probably been recorded, even if the standard does not deem it necessary. It is time to go back to these notes to evaluate what deviation has occurred in recent months, due to the consequences of COVID-19. In particular, it is possible that the policies, objectives and strategies implemented to achieve them have changed, because undoubtedly a new goal is the organization’s ability to survive the pandemic; this condition, however, will have seriously damaged the ability to pursue one’s objectives, because necessarily the prevention and protection measures that had to be implemented will lead to a reduction in production capacity and a collapse in productivity, at least in the short term.

In the following, information management has shown once again to be a critical aspect in the management of our organizations, to identify the methods for controlling the contagion to be implemented in the organization – therefore from the outside inwards – as well as for make workers aware of the new ways in which to carry out their work, and then internal communication. Risk control measures will probably require the introduction of new apparatus or services, and the modification of premises and equipment and the form of work performance, contracts, tenders, supplies, working hours, including shifts, and other working conditions. All this, ça va sans dire, will change, indeed, it has already changed relations with workers, their perceptions and values and the culture of the organization.

Similarly, as regards external factors, the pandemic condition has already profoundly changed the cultural environment and, perhaps, the market, depending on the characteristics of the various companies and at each of the international, national, regional and local levels they develop their business processes. The economic crisis that we are already perceiving is likely to have as a consequence the distortion of the pre-crisis reference market, with the disappearance of old and the coming to the fore of new partners and competitors, as well as the appearance of new professions, figures in charge of management and control of technical and organizational countermeasures against contagion. All of this will lead to significant changes in key factors and trends for the business sector and in relationships with internal stakeholders and their perceptions and values.

It will also be interesting to update the assessment of requirement 4.2 Understanding the needs and expectations of workers and other interested parties: probably, depending on the size of the organization, its territorial relevance and the one of the partners, new interested parties could be identified as, for example, local health emergency management and transport services, with new needs and expectations to be met.

On the basis of these new considerations, it will be necessary to evaluate the possibility of revising the scope of application of the health and safety management system, to introduce new processes such as, for example, the management of home-work transport. This basis will make it possible to redesign the processes of the management system, to adapt it to the new conditions in which the organization will find itself working: upon confirmation or redefinition of the policy statement, the definition of new roles, responsibilities and authorities for the system management and the new requirements for the exercise of leadership in the organization.

Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels. Originally published on HSE People.

ISO 45001 and COVID-19 part one – HSE People

Does an organization that has implemented an OHS management system according to the ISO 45001:2018 standard, needs to learn a lesson from what happened to it, because of the COVID-19 epidemic? Certainly. The decision to adopt a management system is made on a voluntary basis; there are no laws that impose it. Those who have taken this step did so because they intended to undertake a virtuous path, which detaches them from the ground of the minimum regulatory requirements defined for the protection of the psychophysical integrity of the worker, with the aim of accessing a higher level of good practices. And it is certainly a good practice to evaluate what has changed since December 31, 2019, when the World Health Organization collected a statement from the Municipal Health Commission of Wuhan, in the People’s Republic of China, relating to cases of viral pneumonia.

To be precise, the management system should have given itself a process for controlling the change, even if the requirement 4.1.3 foresees the need to keep under control the planned changes, temporary and permanent, which have an impact on the performance of the OSH. in terms of organization and working conditions, however, there remains a need to re-examine the consequences of involuntary changes.

We are therefore in the situation in which our organizations have had to take countermeasures in a hurry as a result of the epidemic, very often under impromptu instructions, and must now plan a coexistence with the virus that is expected to be long and complicated. How to operate to make the most of the management system? The most powerful tool in this regard is the management review, defined in requirement 9.3 of the standard. This is a step that usually marks the conclusion of a Deming cycle and the start of a new one, but nothing prevents it from being used for a new planning of activities, as a consequence of an epochal event such as the one we are experiencing.

In this case, the main topic to be evaluated is listed under letter b) of the content list of a typical management review: changes in internal and external factors that are relevant to the management system for OSH. And then we return to requirement 4: the context of the organization.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels. Originally published on HSE People.

The Paradigm Shift of the ISO 45001:2018 Standard – HSE People

Risk assessment is a commonly used project management technique. The philosophical approach of risk assessment has been developing from North American experiences in the nuclear and aerospace industry since the 1950s and today it is a well-defined discipline, with facets ranging from mathematics to philosophy, and which finds its systematic and systemic application to the most diverse fields, from the process industry to health, from the construction of large infrastructures to insurance.

It should not be surprising to find references to risk assessment in a safety management system: already BS OHSAS 18001:2009 dealt with it in requirement 4.3.1 Hazard identification, risk assessment and determining control. Very predictably, because we find the same approach in the European directives that generated the current legislative landscape of European countries, the standard provided that anyone wishing to structure the management system of their organization, would have to prepare a procedure for identifying hazards and assess risks, which takes into consideration all factors with the potential to cause negative effects on the health and safety of people working under the organization’s control. And so the standard deals with physical agents as well as organizational ones, materials as well as work organization criteria: all this is consistent with the definition of danger and risk proposed by the standard and with the references. These are the legal requirements, and there is nothing to say here.

In defining the requirements recalled by the new ISO 45001:2018 standard, the organization and the level of its performance, combined with the identification of the parties that may be interested in my company, will bring to define the level of reputation I intend to achieve for my organization, towards the stakeholders that my company itself is… interested in satisfying. Reputation which basically means the ability to access the reference market for my organization: with a low reputation I will not receive orders or in the execution of the orders that I will be able to access I will be more subject to controls that also impact on my production capacity. With a high reputation I will have access to more business opportunities and will basically be left freer to conduct them as I know.

Now, over thirty years after the issue of Directive 89/391/CEE, it is not reasonable to argue that there is a technical deficit to be filled: the problem is necessarily of a cultural nature. And ISO 45001:2018 has prepared these and other tools to bridge the gap.

Originally published on HSE People.