Health and safety managers – adapting to change

Health and safety managers – adapting to change

If you close your eyes and picture a health and safety (H&S) manager, what do you see? Someone who knows the rules by the book and checks up on their enforcement?

Health and safety professionals are responsible for many things. Most importantly, they are responsible for a company’s people. It is a multidisciplinary role that involves preventing injury, recording accidents, arranging training and ensuring compliance with regulations. 

Changing regulations and standards can shift the focus and priorities of health and safety professionals, changing the way they audit, monitor and review H&S strategies.  For example, the new General Data Protection Regulation, introduced in May 2018, will influence how H&S managers handle personal data.

Third party accreditation such as ISO 45001, a new global standard for health and safety, can benefit a company by demonstrating its commitment to a safe working environment. H&S managers must be comfortable with data and documentation as part of this process.

As well as regulatory influence, the role of the H&S manager is impacted by technological and cultural shifts.

Health and safety managers are responsible for much more than enforcing the rules.

Technological change

Industry 4.0 is bringing with it rapid technological change, which come with benefits as well as risks. H&S managers must handle a workforce made up of humans and robots, ensuring the interactions are safe and risk of injury is minimised. This may involve segregating robots from humans or ensuring certain safety features are installed.

New technologies, such as drones, can improve worker safety by acting as the eyes in inspection. This means that humans may no longer be required to work at height or in hazardous areas.

The health and safety manager must assess the risks of each new technology and ensure that training is given to all operators so it can be integrated smoothly.

Cultural change

The traditional image of a health and safety manager is someone who focusses only on workplace safety, preventing harm from falling equipment and injuries from trips, slips and falls.  However, increased awareness of long term health problems is increasing focus on employee health, particularly for workers in hazardous environments. For example, workers with physically demanding jobs may be at risk of back problems, particularly if their posture is poor.

Businesses can now incorporate real-time monitoring devices to track workers’ locations, safety, environment, comfort and health.  Staff can add wearable technology to their work clothes, including sensors to assess factors like heart rate and temperature to flag up any longer-term health risks.  This can help workers to improve their posture when lifting, to reduce the risk of spinal injury. Also, sensors in the environment can monitor air quality to ensure ventilation is adequate.

Health and safety managers are responsible for much more than enforcing the rules. They must use their engineering and manufacturing knowledge in combination with soft skills to ensure an organisation’s staff are safe and looked after during technological change, for now and the long term.


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