H&S is failing Small Businesses – Part 2 with Carl Mannion

Safeti Podcast Transcripts

Intro: Welcome to the Safeti podcast with your host all the way from a small green island in the wild Atlantic Ocean, Richard Collins.

Richard: Hi folks welcome back to the Safeti podcast, really happy for you to be tuning into the second part of this call with Carl Mannion. Hopefully you enjoyed the first part of the show. Obviously we covered so much ground that I wanted to split it up into two parts. Some of the things we’re going to touch on today, we’re going to look at the risk around focusing on the next big thing. We’re going to touch on the rise of convenience health and safety services and then we go on to look at some of the changes in the landscape of training and learning and some of the risks and opportunities associated with that. But before we kick off I just want to touch on a couple of things. I made the mistake of letting my wife listen to the beginning of the intro of the last podcast. Because I was having a couple of technical issues on my website. Of course this was a wonderful opportunity for to give me some constructive feedback and if any of you read, I managed to squeeze out a blog post into my site during the week regarding this sort of lead-up to doing a podcast and some of the challenges really that I had psychologically and literally as well and one of the big hang-ups was the fact I trying to actually sound normal on the mic and which I’m still  struggling with I guess and trying to sound relaxed as well. When my wife listened to the intro of last week’s podcast, her constructive feedback was you need to really loosen up when you’re doing these intros. Because you sound quite robotic and it just doesn’t sound like you. So I really have to work on that. but I’m also very aware that there’s a lot of people listening from different countries around the world that aren’t used to listening to my thick Irish accent as much as my wife is every day. So I want to just get the right balance there and hopefully we can find a happy medium. So yeah it’s not the first time she’s told me to loosen up. But I think on this occasion I might take her advice on it. It has been a great start to the Safeti podcast so far and I’m really enthused about some of the feedback that we’ve had. What I would say is though that I’ve been trying to encourage folks to let me know what they want to hear on the podcast. We’re very much open to suggestions in that respect and I’ve been trying to guess it I suppose from my own experience what might be valuable for people. But obviously that’s a difficult thing for me to do and so if you’re listening to this and you’ve enjoyed what we’ve produced so far, then please reach out whether it be by leaving a comment in the comments box or you can pop an email through to info@https://safeti.com. I’m looking into also putting in transcripts for you. So you can read the content rather than listening to an audio format. So if that sounds like a good suggestion, then please let me know. Just to give you a heads up, after this podcast is released the next one has already been recorded. It is going to be with Adel Lawson, the HSE manager for Hamad International Airport in Qatar. Where we’re going to look at how to hire the right people in health safety and environment. He’s going to draw from his oil and gas construction and also facilities management experience to give us what his view is in terms of actually pinpointing what you should be looking for when you’re hiring people for these roles. So I think it’ll be useful for both people trying to get hired and people also doing the hiring. Whether it’s a HSE manager or someone that works in human resources as well. So it’s an interesting conversation, so keep your eye out for that one. It’s time to go and pick up the second half of our call with Carl Mannion of better safety. Where we look at how health and safety in his view is failing smaller businesses. Moving on then Carl is talking about more generally that the feelings in for smaller businesses in the economy and in terms of health and safety. We have mentioned in previous discussion about whilst the health and safety fraternity may be focusing on certain hot topics of the day and we do have a tendency to do that and everybody jumps on the bandwagon. We tend to forget about the fact we are failing on basic safety, basic health principles in the workplace. Would you have an opinion on that?

Carl: I think it’s an accurate reflection if I was honest and one of the hot topics at the moment and I actually agree with this hot topic that needs to be raised is mental health. Specifically in construction and there is a huge drive towards stamping out this sort of egotistical patriarchal. You know the guy doesn’t get sick. The guy doesn’t get mental health problems. He just cracks on and does his job. Which is complete nonsense of course. Because mental health can affect any gender and affect anyone at any time in their career and I think it’s good that there is dialogue about that. I think it’s good that there’s a lot of people talking about it in some respects. However I think that we are also diverting an awful lot of attention and energy into something which yes affects people. But I also feel that there’s a lot of people not doing the very basic safety as well as very basic health topics correctly. Such as not erecting a scaffold correctly. Not footing a ladder. if we talk about health, not wearing PPE when they’re dealing with dust and fumes or people removing asbestos without a license and without any form of training. Because they think it’s non licensable. Because they don’t understand the difference. These are very basic things that we are still not doing it in construction. But there are also other industries metal polishers for example. Garages that have been through recently where the spraying and restricted areas and they’re spraying aerosols which are very powerful and can overwhelm quite quickly. But still not wearing their correct PPE. They’re wearing them on their head or on their chest and these are basics that we’re not doing now. These are things that have been around for a very long time and we’re still not getting that right.

Richard: You know I think that’s why it’s important for you to come on and for us to talk about these things. Because I see it myself where even the equipment may be there. But it’s still not being used unless there’s someone there to directly supervise work and so forth.  policing clearly is not something that we want to have to do and there’s still a lot of work to be done in that respect and moving on from that point and I was looking at some information recently there in the lead up to this podcast regarding SMEs and a survey that was done a couple of years ago that said that 2/3 of SME, people actually interviewed at senior management level had said the 2/3 of the SME businesses could do significantly more to prevent accidents and that within over a fifth of them, no one had any health and safety qualifications whatsoever and there was no coverage at all. The biggest restricting factor for this seemed to be time followed by cost. With that sort of in mind again you know there’s lots of scope for improvement. how do you think from what you’ve seen in the last year working in your own consultancy and you know for anybody listening, what do you think that big-ticket items are that we can do to sort of change the small business mindset and to also to help them to help them you know deliver good health and safety management without costing them too much money or you know taking up too much time.

Carl: Well I think the things that we’re doing wrong is were giving people a false sense of security. Again going back to when you first open your business, you then go and open a bank account and the bank’s very large banks will say to you oh and for 20 pounds a month you can buy this consultancy service. Which is HR, health and safety and all the support services that you need. 20 quid a month or 50 quid a month. You know they’ll give you a template, they’ll give you YouTube videos that you can get guidance on and so on and so forth and you think wow that’s great. You know someone’s able to download a health and safety policy template. But the challenge with that of course is there’s no ownership. Because you’ve just copied and pasted your name from point 8 into this brand new template that you’ve never read. You don’t understand. Because no one’s bothered to take you through it and you won’t got the time to watch the video anyway. Because you’ve got to be up at 6:00 in the morning to go and build anti Ethel and extension. What’s going wrong in my view is that we’ve become this sort of fast-food industry. We don’t want to pay for a gourmet burger. We probably don’t have the money anyway to pay for the gourmet burger. So instead we’ll go to a fast-food joint what we want it in 30 seconds or less. Because we think about covers us. That’s the great illusion. It is the great myth that we think. We’ve paid 30 quid, we’ve got our own online health and safety policy. So if anything happens, we’ll send that to our insurers and we’re covered and unfortunately that’s not true. It’s not the case at all in many sort of enforcement type cases where we find that the documentation don’t mirror what actually happens in real life not business.

Richard: Yeah and there are lots of examples coming right now particularly because of the health and safety sentencing guidelines that have been updated recently. There’s a lot of people that are getting serious serious fines and ending up in prison as well. which you know is clearly for anybody working in the profession and anybody involved in business in general, very very worrying. Are people burying my head in the sand or dude are they just ignorant of the fact that these changes have actually happened?

Carl: I think it’s twofold. The first problem is ignorance. I worked for an organization recently who employed a large amount of people over 5,000 people across the UK and a medium risk business. So it wasn’t a great risk like construction or agriculture or anything. I won’t name the sector. But quite a lot of people working right the way up and down the UK and the head of health and safety had done, IOSH managing safely. On the head of safety did the IOSH managing safely back in the 1990 or 1980’s and that was their health and safety qualification. So this person says oh yeah you know we’re covered and he’s providing assurances to the board of directors who then so whatever reason decides to get an external auditor to come in and review their safety. Because they think oh this would be good to show the board. Unfortunately they cataclysmically failed the audit and that led to a lot of you know what’s gone wrong here, why is this happened and obviously then they brought in some external support. So I think ignorant does play its part. But I also think a lot of people they think they understand, they are unconsciously incompetent is the way I would describe it. They don’t know that they don’t know. I don’t think its cause they’re bad people. I don’t think its cause they’re trying to do anything sinister or anything dangerous on purpose. I just think they don’t know that they don’t know and they carry on in life and hopefully nothing happens and nobody challenges it. So everyone thinks its okay. when during hard economic times of course, many businesses feel the pinch and they start to look at how can we save money, how can we save time, how can we make things more efficient and the question is asked you know do we really need to spend the day preparing this site. Do we really need to spend half a day writing these documents? Do we really need to spend 25 minutes briefing the staff on the dangers on this particular job? You know.


Richard: It’s a big challenge for us. I see it as an opportunity as well. Because there’s so many people that don’t realize the potential consequences and clearly as you’ve just stated you know there’s a huge amount of businesses and you’re only scratching the surface for the one that you dealt with and obviously highlighted the issues. There’s another hundred out there that didn’t have anybody out to do an audit for them. Do you think there are any innovative ways that we can deal with the actual root causes of these problems?

Carl: Well some of the things that we started exploring at my practice at the moment is using social media to reduce time and to increase efficiency. So what we’ve seen in the last couple of years there’s this upward trend of people not taking time out to read and understand the topic. so health and safety is a really really boring subject for so many people and if I said to you right here is a textbook on worker height and these are some of the consequences of it and these are the fines and prosecutions and these are the injuries that can happen and this is what we need you to do you know we could go into like 150-250 pages, no problem. However what we really want to do is give somebody four or five key points to remember at all times when they’re working at height. So short sharp messages, short sharp videos. One of sort of started to do with some of the businesses I work with this give this sort of cascade of information effect. So let’s assume for a second you’re the health and safety manager or the business or the health and safety professional for the business, the competent person. So you need to have pretty decent knowledge of a topic. Let’s just take on worker height again. You need to be really understanding what this workers height regulation means and how it translates and how it applies into the real world. So you’re the go-to person for this set of information and then underneath you might have a team of advisers who may not come from a work at height background. But who certainly you know are aware of it and they know it’s an important part of your business. So it’s on their radar. But they probably would go to you for some technical advice. Underneath that, you’ve got the people who are actually doing the job. So maybe the managers or the supervisor or the team leaders. They need smaller amount of information again. Maybe a couple of pages of information if we were to sort of put it in a page format. So maybe a couple of pages of information there. So three or four pages tops and their job is to cascade three or four pages down into the guys and girls on the ground. Which is cascaded down to a single page. So every level of the business, there is an appropriate amount of knowledge being transferred up and down the chain and actually when we try out these in a couple of different businesses that I work at the moments and the feedback is very positive I have to say. The people are getting the message across. They don’t care about regulation number three, they don’t care about section four. What they care about is what do you want me to do and how do you want me to do it.


Richard: Completely agree and I think there’s a huge scope for simplification of why we do things and how we deliver technical information you know in a consumable format that doesn’t bore the pants off people and I think we have to be very honest with ourselves and the perception of health and safety in particular is boring. That’s the reality. I admire the fact that you’re you know you’re looking at these opportunities & different ways of doing things and trying to flip things on their head and but actually saying right why can I help you here, how can I crunch it down in layman’s terms.


Carl: Yeah It also has to be remembered as well consistently, because what you don’t want them to do is tomorrow forgotten the four or five key points that you just told them about yesterday and I think its touched on another point when we look at this is really for larger organizations, but they’re paper heavy. So what they’ll do is they’ll get a risk assessment and a method statement particularly in construction. Which is about 35-40 pages long and then they’ll give that to the guys and girls on the ground and say right okay here’s your risk assessment method statement for today. We’ve got to be out in site in ten minutes, so you could just sign that. hold on a minute it’s 30 40 pages long, I don’t know anybody that can read 30-40 pages in 5-10 minutes in a group. How is that protecting anybody?


Richard: And really I think it comes down to the confidence in the competent person who’s actually giving the information forward or cascading from one level to the next. They should be confident and taking the important pieces out. You know pushing it down.


Carl: I think there’s also another point to consider which the elephant in the room is usually when I give talks on this topic and that is adult literacy. The ability for the British workforce to be able to read, write and interpret information at level 2 standard. Which is GCSE standard. We have one of the lowest records of literacy in the European Union for the developed nations. We rank less than 13, then we’re all 17th for world rankings. There are so many people who either have got additional support needs such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and so on or they simply cannot read because education has failed them over the years and we want to now deliver a message of health and safety in all of these written documents. So again coming back to the innovation point, we give them videos. Because we know people like to watch football. We know people like to watch rugby. We know people like to follow support or watch Game of Thrones or whatever it is that they like to do. So we give them the bite-sized chunks of information in a media that we know they understand.

Richard: In terms of learning in general and you think we’re getting any better at it as we move forward.

Carl: To be honest Richard I mean I was reading in the IOSH magazine the other day. Which is well worth a read for anyone that’s got a copy. One of the articles that I read was that the HSE has now come forward and said this online work at height training is no good. What a lot of organizations have done previously, especially when the economic downturn happened is they tried to move their classroom facilitated or person facilitated learning online and that applies for so many different subjects. Which manual handling is now online, fire marshal and Fire Warden training is online. Fighting the fire with the fire extinguisher is online.


Richard: Yes I saw something about manual handling and the effectiveness of it. I am as much of a nerd as you are obviously.  But you know that’s very important. In terms of the technology piece, you know do you think there’s a risk in misapplying the technology such as online courses just to tick boxes and are we walking into to trench here and bringing on a lot of risk that we don’t forsee?

Carl: I think it’s a really interesting question. Because I’ve been an educator for a very long time. Long before I was involved in health and safety, I was an educator for many years and I actually became a health and safety educator some years ago as well. So for me this is an excellent question. Because I see so many occasions where people have moved, what would traditionally be a practical task or a practical course? Where we go outside and we assess somebody to be able to do something. Now moving online, such as what we were saying before, manual handling, fire wardens, and worker heights all these sorts of things. But now I think that’s coming to an end and now the app is upon us, the age of the app. so now we don’t need to do online learning. Because we’ve got an app that’s going to give us a set of instructions that we tick a box to say we’ve read and understood and then that’s it, we’re done and we’ve had the training.

Richard: Huge risk of undermining the whole process and intent of the thing in the first place, isn’t there?

Carl: I think there is and I think what these companies who do this, they have the good intention. But they are replacing experienced trainers and experienced people of the field who have the knowledge and the background in whatever the sector is with an online video that a developer doesn’t have that knowledge and so it might be sense checked by somebody who knows what they’re talking about. But then that’s sold fifty thousand times over two years and things may change.

Richard: I can see a huge risk here and I have to be honest I think the danger here is that you know from an organizational perspective, if you are a health and safety manager in an organization and you’re given or supplied these types of courses and it makes your life easier from the point of view of time wise you know if you’re under pressure. This may be your best option. But as we discussed earlier is this going to be sufficient if it ends up being a case of a judge in a court asking you, you know do you think your training was adequate as a health and safety professional what you delivered to employees whomever it may be. I think it is a very important point for people in the industry to acknowledge and to consider.

Carl: When I look at training and I look at the different levels of training out there. I think it’s important to acknowledge that you need to have an understanding and you need to be able to apply that knowledge and that understanding in the real world. So when you are potentially questioned on the scrutiny of a judge and jury if you like, you have to be able to hold your head up high and say well actually yeah this was the best route for us for this reason, for these circumstances. So for example if you’ve got remote workers all over the UK, driver safety is another hot topic at the moment. So people who don’t necessarily work from a set office who are on the road all the time, salesmen, development managers, those sorts of people. These ladies and gents would probably be a huge waste of their time to come into a classroom environment. Which is centrally located and say Birmingham and then they’ve got half a day to travel to Birmingham, half a day to travel back from Birmingham for a one-hour course. Of courses there are online solutions there. But we have to consider the pros and cons of delivering online versus actual experiential learning and experiential teaching and I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t understand. Whether that’s directors of the business, HR managers or even health and safety professionals themselves. I think also it’s having the confidence to say no is also a big deal within health and safety. You know somebody says oh yeah we’re going to do all this online learning next year. It’s that person in the room to say actually I’m really sorry but I don’t think we should do these three courses online learning. I think they need to remain classroom based. That takes an awful lot of courage and very seldom that people step up to the plate like that in my experience to challenge senior leadership.


Richard: In terms of training and in standardizing the whole approach from the profession, do you think the likes of IOSH and the regulator should have a better rule in terms of coming up with what the expectations should be for a training, for a certain activity or a certain type of work etc.?

Carl: I think people try to make it exist, but no I don’t think it should and the reason for that is the health and safety at work act itself. the reason the purpose and the scope for the health and safety work Act, it’s simplistic beauty really was that the onus was on the employer to tell us what needed to happen to keep their people safe. Not the government or the regulator to tell them what they needed to do to keep their people safe. So in essence, the health and safety at work access you’re the employer, you tell us. But if you really muck this up, you’re going to know about it and I think you know that we’ve introduced these regulations. But I see even now you know real training and live trainers now, not online, real people delivering training six/seven hours of regulation this, legislation that and these are the fines and these are the consequences and if you do this, you go to prison and if you do this, you get fined and if you do this, you go to prison and get fined and if you do this, you can be struck off as a director and all these really scary stories. But they’re not actually telling them anything. They’re not telling them what this is, what it means. they are not actually describing this is an example of this and this is an example of what good looks like and I think that’s where we’ve really let the whole industry down. We are too busy trying to scare people. We are not busy enough trying to help people and that goes from the regulator themselves. Even though they do these lovely online pieces and they have these nice packs and IOSH are the same. We do very nice packs. They’re beautifully written and illustrated. If you’re a member of IOSH. But a small business owner getting back to our original discussion here is not a member of IOSH and doesn’t know what IOSH is. He has never heard of IOSH. So how does he get hold of a pack on you know skin cancer? How does he get a pack on mental health first aid or she get a pack of mental health first aid? You know these things are for the people who have the consultants in place and who have the managers in place and the advisors. So all this stuff exists to support people who are already in the club. What we’re talking about high 90% of people who aren’t in the club now.


Richard: What would you think particularly for small businesses, what would your advice be both to them and both and to health and safety professionals and more people working for them to improve how they can meet their obligations.


Carl: Yeah so I think from the consultant point of view, stop scaring people. Stop telling them the world is going to end unless they have these things in place. Stop quoting regulations of people and start trying to help them actually achieve their business goals and objectives. People don’t go into business to understand a regulation. They go into business to generate money to feed their families, to go on holiday twice a year and these sort of standard things. They are not interested in section 2.1 paragraph A, of the health and safety Work Act. Unless of course you are a health and safety profession. So they don’t care about that. So stop scaring them with that stuff and start telling them stuff they actually need to know. So start telling them you know you need to make sure people have got them supervision. Make sure people have given some instructions in a way that they understand. Not written down necessarily, but can be talking to them or it can be given a video or it can be an audio file. It can be anything, a poster with a picture on it. You know anything that helps them to understand. I think that’s my advice from a consultant’s point of view. For the employers, I think my advice I guess is there’s loads and loads of free information out there that you don’t need to pay for. But there are also services and organizations out there that can help you to understand what your duties are in a way that is simple and easy and effective. Where you’re not going to get bogged down by lots of paperwork. So when you choose and to engage with the consultants or engage with a health and safety professional, think about how thats going to fit your business and your time. You are going to have to do some work I’m afraid. This is not I will write something for you type a deal. this is a you need to be involved in the process and you need to okay these things and make sure they fit for purpose and if you don’t do that, then the liability is on you. It’s not on me as a consultant. So you know you really need to think about. If somebody’s telling you, we will create your file for you and then you at it you don’t need to worry. They are dead wrong and they’re giving you such bad advice and I would urge you not to engage with the service of that person or people.

Richard: That’s a great point to end on and hopefully you know we’ll continue and talking in this way openly and honestly about issues that we have crossed different part of industry. Carl thank you so much for coming on the safety podcast today. I think we’ve touched on a huge range of valuable points that people can take away. You know obviously if anybody wants to reach out to either of us, I’m sure you’ll be happy to engage with them, would that be okay?

Carl: Absolutely I welcome the opportunity.


Richard: Just let everybody know before you go where they can find you Carl.

Carl: Yes so we have offices in Leeds, Manchester, London and Liverpool. My email address is Carl.mannion@simply-better-safety.co.uk, not very well thought out.


Richard: You’ve practiced it but.

Carl: Certainly practiced it. But yeah you can also find me on LinkedIn, which I am always on. Just search for Carl Mannion. You will find me, I’m certainly in the top sort of five for that name. So yeah by all means go and search me that way.

Richard: Excellent. well thank you so much again and I’m sure everybody else well we’ll look forward to see what you’re doing in the future and contributing very positively to both small and larger businesses and the simply better safety.

Carl: Thanks very much.

Richard: So there you have it folks. Carl Mannion giving us what I think is a really valuable insight and to what he is actually experienced through his first year of owning his own health and safety consultancy. Some of the points he touched on there, the first one was looking at how we can become obsessed with the next big thing or the flavor of the month within the industry. what we can take away from that is that although it’s very important to keep learning and keep looking at different opportunities to improve, you must be conscious of the fact that if you devote all your resources to one area, then there is a risk of a pattern developing where you’re actually not doing the basics and therefore inadvertently leaving your business and your people exposed. Carl want to mansion about the rise of convenience, HSE services. for anyone that has a responsibility for procuring any of these one-stop-shop platforms and it certainly makes sense for them to be aware and get the appropriate advice in terms of the suitability of that program or platform to ensure that there’s adequate coverage for the particular type of business and its activities and also to understand that many of these systems are only frameworks and have to have adequate management and expertise for the day-to-day running of them. It was very interesting that Carl brought up the term unconscious incompetence. I think we could probably all think of examples where within the business someone has been given the role and responsibility of performing house safety or environmental duties. But by no means do they have the knowledge and continued competence to undertake and deliver these duties in an acceptable way. For business owners people working in HSE or even just normal employees with no direct HSE responsibility. It’s an important point to bring up if they see this type of thing within the business that they’re working to give the senior management opportunity to adequately upskill those members of staff or people responsible even if it is themselves. The last major point that we touched on was to do with the changing landscape and training and learning. We could see that there’s a continued tick-box approach to training in many aspects and we need to be very honest in terms of the appropriateness and the effectiveness of the training regimes and types that we’re using for a particular activities. Obviously in accordance with the risk level. It’s up to us to make the right decisions and be able to stand over whichever method that we use. That marks the end of our two-part series with Carl Mannion of better safety. I hope you find some value in our conversations. I think there were some really valid issues raised here and things that we can expand on further in the future. Also I hope there’s some actionable items that you can take away and apply to your workplace or business. If there has been, please let us know. We’d be delighted to hear from you. So until next time folks, keep making a positive difference. I’ll keep trying to loosen up and hopefully we’ll catch you again soon.


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