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Respect is at the root of civilisation and of health and safety

Posted on May 16, 2023

An anthropologist was once asked during a lecture: “When did civilisation start?” Everybody was expecting the answer to be when the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling was painted or when the Rosetta Stone was carved or when Shakespeare, wrote ‘the end’ on Hamlet.

Yet, the answer is different. An ancient thigh bone was once discovered and upon examination it showed that not only had it been broken but there was also evidence that it had healed and that the person had lived for years afterwards.

It proved that others had looked after this person and tended them back to health. In ancient times if you couldn’t walk or you weren’t useful, you were left to suffer or die.

We are human beings and ‘civilisation’ is how we look after each other. The right of a healthy and safe workplace comes from the fact that we are civilised and what we should do is respect others and give them somewhere they can work and can enjoy the job and go home safely without any long term damage.

World Health and Safety Day

Now, every year the International Labour Organisation designates one day as World Day for Safety and Health at Work. This year it was April 28th . Setting one day aside every year as a reminder that health and safety at work is a fundamental principle as well as a right has to be worthwhile, whatever the occupation.

I firmly believe that ‘good health and safety is good business’. Looking after staff has to be at the forefront of every business’s thinking and even if it takes a day such as this to remind everyone then so be it.

The UK is among the best in the world at occupational health and safety and it’s something that we should be proud of. I think that because we are good at it, whether it’s through our education system or culture – we like to follow rules, stand in queues – we can be a country that others look to and learn from.

Definition of ‘respect’

Probably the biggest influence in developing a positive health and safety culture in an organisation is found in that word ‘respect’, which means, according to the Oxford English Dictionary: “Polite behaviour towards or care for somebody/something that you think is important.” So that’s taking care for everyone regardless of their job and background and their salary size.

April was also the month when the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), announced the recipients of their awards – the organisations and business that demonstrate a commitment to health and safety excellence.

The RoSPA Health and Safety Awards is the largest occupational health and safety awards programme in the UK, receiving around 2,000 entries every year, covering nearly 50 countries and a reach of over seven million employees.

Praise and teach

Celebrating good health and safety is, to my mind, important. I believe, you can create as much change with praise as you can with criticism, if it’s done well. In my line of work this is not about catching people out during health and safety site inspections and it’s not about telling people that they are approaching the job incorrectly.

At Courtley, we always go and look at how the job is being done and then teach them a better, safer way, if needed, and to identify non-conformances.

If I speak to an operative on a site who has raised a concern and it’s because of the design of the work in hand I think that’s fabulous. They haven’t just moaned about it and then carried on regardless, they have spotted a problem or a better, safer way and spoken out. That’s a person who is invested in their own health and safety and that of their work mates. That is, by definition, respect.

Empathy is the bottom line

Health and Safety is everybody’s business. No one is particularly happy to see me on site with a yellow jacket and a clip board. Nobody is ‘high fiving’ and shouting: “Yippee.” Yet, when I take the time to talk to them properly, take time to understand and praise them for the correct things they are doing when things appear poor, they response is always positive. These are the real diamonds, the people who through their own standards and morals say things can and should be done better.

The bottom line for me is that I like it when you encounter people who show a care for themselves, their colleagues and others who might be affected by their work, whether that’s operatives on site, or people in the office.

They are being empathetic and that’s health and safety.

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