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The H&S Advisor role & it’s evolution: what do they actually do now?

28th June 2018

A key component of our approach in supporting companies to develop strong Health & Safety performance is that H&S must be integrated into the roles of everyone.  More specifically, leaders must lead it, managers must manage it and employees must employ it to deliver the company vision to send everyone home safe each and every day.

One group of people not explicitly mentioned above are the Health & Safety advisors who support organisations.  In regard to their role, my deeply held belief is clear: they support, facilitate and guide – they do not “do” H&S.  I was recently challenged as to whether this was really the best way to approach Health & Safety. The question was put to me:

“In a resource constrained world, isn’t it more realistic that the Health & Safety people do the risk assessments, the safety tours and the investigations? After all they are the experts!”.

I’ll be honest I had to stop and think for a moment; this was something that I had, in the past, accepted and filed in the folder marked “H&S certainties”.  So, I had to dig back through the memory archives of my own experience to understand a bit more.

At the start of my career, as an enthusiastic graduate EHS advisor, there were many things that I “did” because, at the time, it felt like my job.  For fixed sites, I introduced the first paper recycling programmes they had ever had. For projects, I wrote the first meaningful risk assessments that ever been prepared.

This was something to be proud of – new achievements for me in terms of experience that were also benefiting the organisation.  Management systems achieved, laws complied with (at least on paper) and, when things were getting my attention, all was good.

So I thought a bit more and began to unearth the niggles, problems and frustrations that went with this approach.  The first one was a practical one – if I wasn’t there then “stuff” didn’t happen. After a few days away, it may be that I had to spend several hours sorting out those amazing recycling bins or I would get a call to say that we had to start a project so “could you get down here and sort the paperwork out!”.

The second issue that emerged was that I was the only one who understood what was required to happen.  It felt at times like ‘Darren’s crusade’, as opposed to something the business had wholeheartedly backed.

The final obvious point was that a key message was being buried in managers and employees not being required to participate more directly.  Although we said Health and Safety and Environment were “everyone’s responsibility” – in reality, they were only mine!  We expected managers to manage all other facets of running their departments, including quality, HR and procurement but although it was our stated “First Priority”, Health & Safety was not a priority for managers.

With this experience in mind, I looked around at other corporate support functions and recognised that they were not ‘doing’ all aspects of their topic areas. The Human Resources team were not ‘doing’ all of the HR issues themselves, they created a framework, trained people on its use and monitored its success. They were seen as a source of information, not as a front-line resource substitute.

This corporate support method is the approach that I concluded would work best for Health & Safety.

My thinking in this area is backed up a by the direct experience of working in a business where the level of H&S resource was reduced by two-thirds overnight, except in one division.  In the divisions which had less resource, the capability and capacity of employees and managers to address H&S flourished.  In the division where H&S resource was not removed, the same change did not occur.

H&S Advisors can be a crutch to those who do not want to walk boldly on their own.

If you would like to discuss more about your Health & Safety team and how to optimise their input into your business, please get in touch.

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