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HSE RECONSIDER HOW TO INFLUENCE SMALLER FIRMS

hselogo1Regulator advice and messages are failing to chime with the SME businesses

HSE has found that the majority of fatal incidents involve small businesses and nearly half of all reported injuries occur during ‘refurbishment’ activities.

Risks on larger projects can be substantial but HSE find that large projects are, generally, “better at controlling risks than most small projects”.

The HSE Construction Sector Plan determined that improvement for small/micro businesses is a key priority for the regulator and that research would be used to develop the right mix of messages, tools, information and incentives to help smaller construction businesses to comply proportionately with sensible risk management.

The HSE Insight and Service Design team worked with HSE colleagues and CONIAC members to lead research focused on sole-traders; micro-businesses (1-9 employees); smaller business (10-15 employees) and domestic and small commercial clients.

Key research findings

On 14th March 2018 the HSE Board considered a report on the research. The key findings were:

  1. Perceptions of risk management – different and conflicting perceptions of the role and purpose of managing risk in the workplace, heavily influenced through personal experiences and interaction with others on site. Awareness of CDM 2015 among participants was extremely low;
  2. Consistency and clarity – perceptions of what the rules are can vary immensely from site to site and from individual to individual based on where their narratives are being formed. This combined with the lack of respect for those carrying out the health and safety role and bad experiences of over-zealous health and safety implementation resulted in issues of consistency and clarity of communication;
  3. Disconnection from daily activity – lack of connection to day-to-day activity led to perceptions among some of health and safety as money-making (in terms of time burden and project costs), or punitive (with references to Fee for Intervention) in its nature, rather than as an activity that keeps people ‘like us’ safe;
  4. Key messengers – and those with the potential for positive influence were not those with a health and safety role. Individuals in the specialist trades, empowered and enabled to dictate the working conditions, were most the respected group. This reflected the importance of professional identity. Repeated examples used were glass fitters and electricians – where safety was integral to their day to day profession; safety equipment was essential for their trade; the specialist nature of their job meant they were a scarce resource often booked long in advance and they were financially able to refuse a project where they deemed the conditions on site unsafe;
  5. Client awareness and priority – both domestic and small commercial clients demonstrated no awareness and knowledge of their duty-holder responsibilities. Health and safety was not a priority; once clients commissioned the work they assumed the health and safety responsibility was the contractors and they would have insurance to deal with any health and safety requirements. When domestic clients procure and commission construction work, they often don’t know what they are buying and the health and safety risks involved; selection is based on cost and recommendations from others;
  6. Overhead v Benefit – health and safety is seen as an overhead rather than a responsibility or a benefit. Where contractors have a lack of professional identity and/ or low financial security to ‘push back’ on clients’ unrealistic expectations, this leads to health and safety being compromised in order to secure work; and
  7. Ownership and legitimacy – the key determining factor in health and safety attitudes and behaviours was found to be a sense of ‘ownership’. Ownership is the extent to which health & safety regulations were seen to be legitimate and ‘for me’ and others like me.

 

Way forward

The report to the HSE Board concludes that the research has provided a valuable and significant platform to take that work forward. The areas being explored further by HSE are:

  • Tone and content – changing the tone and content for information and publicity for some audiences. Enforcement publicity is essential to highlight consequences and to deter ‘Cowboys’, however HSE may need to consider how a more “supportive tone” might be delivered to those who would best respond to it and who should deliver the information;
  • Trusted messengers – use of peer networks to influence messaging and reaching out to people using the channels/mechanisms they use whilst acknowledging that few will come to the regulator and identifying who are the “trusted messengers”;
  • Simple practical guidance – understanding how HSE can satisfy the need for simple and practical guidance for clients and contractors. HSE remain committed to a goal-based system of regulation but for smaller businesses the regulator will now consider what it can do to illustrate good practice; and
  • Client awareness – increasing awareness of client responsibilities in construction, and providing information/tools to allow them to make a more informed purchase.

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