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Engaging young people to think about health and safety

Realistically speaking, how many of us think about potential hazards or conditions that break basic health and safety

Safeera Sarjoo
12th February 2016
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My guess is, not many of us. It's a huge problem, considering 1.2 million working people suffer from a work related illness, according to website Health and Safety Executive. Senior management have a moral duty to provide their employees with conditions that conform to regulations and act swiftly to rectify any potential hazards that threaten the health of their workers. 

In addition to this, there is a growing concern that young people feel somewhat reluctant to even voice their own concerns over health and safety within the work place. This isn't any way to nurture the next generation, which is why the British Safety Council have made it their mission to counter this feeling among young people within their latest conference.

The 'Health and Safety - what next?' Conference featured keynote speakers that promoted five main points the British Council believe will make for healthier and safer work activities. These are:

  1. Promote the importance of health and safety
  2. Build understanding and capability
  3. Commit to leadership and worker engagement
  4. Share knowledge and experience
  5. Campaign for sensible legislation, regulation and application

Everyone is aware of the mammoth Crossrail project taking place. However did you know that they are working hard to create an interdependent culture within its workforce? Rather than have people look out for themselves, they're looking out for one another.

Steve Hails, Health and Safety Director for Crossrail admits that there are still pockets of sexism, homophobia and racism within the construction industry and he is working to stamp this out as diversity and inclusion makes for a much more effective and profitable workforce.

In addition to supporting older people who have developed chronic illnesses, it is also important to identify and engage with young people. Tracy Hill, a health and safety trainer revealed a new approach being taken when delivering training courses that are helping to prepare young people to be active contributors to the work force.

Delighted at her efforts in engaging young people, we spoke with her to find out more.

Why do you think health and safety is sometimes not factored into business objectives?

I think because businesses tend to focus on production and making money. Health and safety is sometimes focused on as a secondary spend and almost a hindrance to their business and is often thought of being someone else's job.

Do you think that mentality is starting to change now or is there still a lot to do?

It's a bit of both really. A lot of organisations are getting on board are realising that they need to make health and safety part of their profile in terms of the overall culture of their organisation. At the same time there are many organisations that need a lot of work but we are, as a nation, improving in terms of our training and the type of training we have on offer that attract more businesses to taking it more seriously.

What are some of the challenges you're facing when it comes to health and safety within the workplace?

A lot of it is money. A lot of organisations, particularly in the current climate, don't want to spend money on something you can't see. Health and safety is not always visible and businesses see training as not a necessity compared to expanding their business.

With the upcoming conference, one of the campaigns that I read about was Speak Up, Stay Safe. How important do you think communication is and why do you think young people avoid speaking up within the workplace?

I think communication is absolutely critical and key to health and safety. Young people are probably scared to speak up because one, they're young. They perhaps don't have the necessary experience and skills to speak up and often they're afraid that if they do speak up, they'll get reprimanded for that and maybe get sacked. A lot of the young people I speak to when I do training say there's a fear factor when it comes to speaking up about health and safety.

How do you think businesses can counter that and provide an environment where young people are comfortable to speak up?

I think a lot of it is down to culture. I think if senior managers made health and safety a positive aspect within their working culture, where they are upfront and are open to suggestions and let their organisation know that 'yes, you can talk to us about any health and safety concerns you have and you won't get into trouble.' It's about practicing what you preach. It's about developing that relationship within the whole organisation.

What makes your training techniques unique?

We're getting rid of PowerPoint and making our training student led, which is very innovative and very forward thinking. We're getting students involved from the outset and learning in a student led environment with lots of scenarios - not so much role play, that's not where we're going. We create activities because people learn by actually doing rather than hearing.

When you think back to university, some students can be hesitant to participate in role plays and shy away. Have you found this to be the case?

It's different because we don't do role play. What we do for example is we provide a health and safety directive course whereby we put a scenario together, like an airport scenario, and they are directors of the airport and they have to investigate and work in groups to find out clues about the investigation. We talk about the law and the impact that has and it's like a growing story. The response to it has been phenomenal. We didn't expect that. They walk into a room and it's empty. There are no chairs, no tables, there's nothing. The reaction we tend to get is 'oh wow, what's going on here?'

I suppose that's more engaging. You would naturally expect to see tables and chairs when you go into a training course.

You expect a row of chairs, a row of tables, a PowerPoint and a pen card with your name on it - we don’t have any of that anymore. The engagement is there from the moment they step in the room. It's so effective and the response we're getting is so positive it's almost overwhelming.

The approach you're taking also contributes to the Speak Up, Stay Safe campaign. If you're involving young people from the outset and placing them in real life scenarios, do you think that sets them up nicely for the outside working world?

Definitely. My true belief in all of this is if we can get young people involved at an early stage, then not only do they enjoy the course but it gives them the opportunity to learn new skills and take that back to the work place and make a positive change.


Training and Courses offers a variety of Health and Safety courses that will go a long way in keeping people clued up on important knowledge and practices.   

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