Spring is with us, the trees are all in bud, some of the flowers are up and the weather is getting warmer (at least it was this week). Many of you will be planning to get out in the garden or even spring clean the house. This time of year tends to cause to take stock of where were are in our lives and take some action.

Let’s look at how some employers are treating their employees with regard to health and safety.

Here in the year of 2015 we have more technology than we know what to do with yet we are still allowing people to go to work and either be injured during that work or worst of all get killed. We have the intelligence, the knowledge and the know how to prevent all workplace injuries if we are bothered. Sadly we are not.

It all comes down to money

Why are we not bothered? It all comes down to money. If health and safety was really at the top of everyone’s agenda, as I feel it should be, then workplace injuries and illnesses simply would not happen. Workplaces would be designed with health and safety in mind, processes would be ergonomically aok, chemicals would be either eliminated or properly controlled, machines would be designed with safety in mind or be adequately guarded and employees would be trained to a high level so they could identify hazards themselves and pro-actively address them in partnership with management. The ultimate objective being to create a safe place of work for everyone.

No employees identified

I often read corporate publications where they refer to their workforce as their “greatest asset” yet they fail to name any of the employees featured in work situations in the publication, choosing instead to identify the senior people in a top class photo, listing their title etc. I rest my case…..

Up to 300 times earnings

Ultimately many organisations pay lip service to the whole notion that protecting their workforce is a real driver for them. The bottom line is profit, shareholder return and stock market progress. To make it worse many of these large companies are making nauseating profits basically on the back of the output of the bottom tier who can be sacrificed for their stock options. Some CEO’s enjoy up to 300 times the earnings of the lowest earner in the business.

Stress is the issue

So how can we change this – we need to influence, educate, cajole and legally punish CEOs that knowingly allow their employees to be injured and killed. You might think that this only happens in the developed world but look around you – it is happening in every town and city in Europe too. We may not be “killing” employees every day but we are piling on the work so much that they cannot cope and are causing their stress levels to go sky high. Our bodies can only copy with high stress for so long before it has had enough and becomes ill in some way to force us to do something about it, often when it is too late.

No sick pay

We then have a sick employee who may have to go off work for some weeks and in some cases he/she may not get any sick pay from their employer (as paying sick pay in Ireland is not obligatory but optional).  Surprisingly some of the biggest employers do not pay any sick pay because they do not have to. They believe that paying sick pay will encourage employees to be sick assuming that everyone will exploit the sick pay system. A small percentage might but the vast majority of those who are sick are really unwell and need support for a short time until they recover.   While off sick, and with no income except perhaps some occupational injury benefit, they still have bills to pay and families to feed etc. Yet the illness that has caused them to be out of work is a direct result of the work pressure put on them yet the employer abdicates responsibility for causing it.

Integrity and Moral Compass

Where is the integrity at Senior Management level? Where is their moral compass? I feel it is not there at all because it has been overshadowed by the relentless pursuit of wealth and personal gain.

“Greed is good” were the famous words uttered by Michael Douglas in that film about Wall Street.  We may think that after the catastrophe that was the Celtic Tiger here in Ireland some 8 years ago that sayings like that were old hat. Sorry to disappoint you but many businesses and individuals got rich during the recession and are continuing to exploit employees SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY CAN.

Challenge Management Speak

So we need to re-group and challenge modern “management speak” which includes terms such as: lean manufacturing (taking layers of managers out of a structure and expecting those that remain to do the work of those laid off), downsizing (sacking some employees and making the others pick up the slack), zero contracts (keeping employees down, without economic power, without a future and using them whatever way they like) etc. Need I go on?

Those of us in the Health and Safety business, which is a proud profession, that seeks only to protect everyone at work, need to work harder to bring change to the working lives of those we seek to protect.

If people are our most valuable resource – then challenge all CEOs and Senior Managers to demonstrate how they are protecting that asset through effective health and safety. I am waiting.

 

This blog is one in a series written by Mary Darlington on aspects of Health and Safety and specifically Safety Leadership – to read others go to: http://darlington.ie/blog/

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Mary Darlington is Ireland’s foremost Safety Leadership expert. She is a passionate health and safety trainer, speaker and consultant operating in Waterford, Ireland. Visit her website at: www.darlington.ie