Take a look at these two lists. Do you recognise either of them? Can you see any relationship between the two?
List One comprises the factors that impact most positively on workplace well-being, based on the New Economics Foundation (NEF) 2014 literature review. List Two comprises the Dirty Dozen Error Traps, a list of the factors that most contribute to errors and accidents taken from human factors literature. And the relationship between the two lists?
The more there is of list one, the less there will be of list two. If someone is in good health and has a healthy work/life balance, the error trap of fatigue is likely to be reduced. If role expectations are realistic and a person has more control over their work the error traps of time pressure and resource allocation, for example, may well be reduced. Certain management styles, particularly a coaching style which is both engaging and collaborative, are conducive to good teamwork, good communications and positive social norms. Development opportunities could reduce complacency, lack of knowledge or lack of assertiveness – but only if it is the right kind of development. And fairness and job security make a big contribution to stress reduction.
Put simply, improving the well-being of workers is an important way of reducing the likelihood of errors and accidents at work. But giving this the priority it deserves requires a widening of how we think about health and safety.
Take a look at these two definitions of safety:
‘The condition of being protected against physical, social, spiritual, financial, political, emotional, occupational, psychological, educational or other types or consequences of failure, damage, error, accidents, harm or any other event which could be considered non-desirable.’
‘The control of recognised hazards to achieve an acceptable level of risk.’
The first definition is a wide and all-encompassing definition of safety which includes protection against a range of hazards and risks, only one of which is physical, and incorporates the well-being factors in list one. The second I would argue is more aligned to how health and safety is often perceived and practised – focused more on physical health and physical hazards and risks than on any other kind. The result can be that all the emphasis is on reducing risk through compliance, regulation, process and physical defences, and not enough on the wider factors that impact on accidents and errors such as improving workplace well-being.
Of course, compliance, regulation, process and physical defences etc are vital and have resulted in the massive reductions in accidents seen over the last few decades, but they are not the whole story. The next step change in reducing error and accidents requires recognition that:
- low workplace well-being is an error precondition and therefore requires measurement and action
- low workplace well-being is a cultural factor and improving it requires systemic change
- spending money on improving workplace well-being makes good business sense
To experience a new approach to safety education join us at our free safety culture seminar ‘Change the conversation, change the culture’ on Sept 15th 2017 at Brathay Trust in Ambleside – for more details go to our b.SAFE Webpagew or email email@example.com .
For more information on workplace well-being see the NEF’s report at NEF Wellbeing at Work