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Single points of failure | How recruitment and retention challenges might impact health and safety

Written by Ross Henderson on 28 October 2022

In 2022, many organisations are battling a high employee churn rate. Factors such as a change in people’s priorities, the impact of cost of living on salary expectations, and a widening skills gap have all contributed to a challenging recruitment market. Meanwhile, according to one report, 55% of employers are finding retaining staff more difficult than pre-pandemic.

As such, you may be shedding staff faster than you can replace them. While this creates obvious operational issues, there is a hidden casualty in all of this: workplace health and safety.

Single points of failure

Organisations frequently leave health and safety management, or specific health and safety projects, in the hands of a single employee. They may do a great job and have everything in hand, but when they leave, the organisation may quickly find itself back to square one.

These individuals are what’s known as a ‘single point of failure’ – a part of a system which, if removed, could cause the whole system to come to a halt. A single point of failure can be a piece of equipment, an application or, in the case of the recruitment and retention issues many organisations are experiencing at present, a person.

If the person responsible for health and safety management in your organisation was to leave right now, would you be able to pick up where they left off? Do you know where they are up to, or where they stored important documents? If not, it could be difficult for somebody else to step in.

Do you fully understand the extent of this person’s responsibilities and what they do on a daily or monthly basis? If not, you could find that checks suddenly stop being carried out, certificates expire, or things are missed.

In many cases, these individuals may have special knowledge, or be the only person trained to perform a particular process. Do you have anybody else who is trained or competent enough to take this on?

To make matters worse, health and safety is often an adjunct to somebody’s role, frequently delegated to Office Managers, HR Managers, Operations Managers or other such skilled staff. Because of this, even if this individual doesn’t leave, if others within the business do, they may become busier or take on additional responsibilities and, as a result, health and safety could end up taking a back seat.

And the problem isn’t always solved by employing a dedicated health and safety person either. Businesses often over-rely on these individuals without putting contingency plans in place to ensure their departure doesn’t cause health and safety to grind to a halt. Replacing these individuals might not be easy given the increased demand for health and safety professionals following the pandemic, so you could end up stuck without any health and safety cover at all while you attempt to re-fill their role.

All of this exposes employers and their staff to increased risk.

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What are the dangers?

If you work with an outsourced health and safety company such as WorkNest, your sole health and safety person leaving could result in disproportionate action plans (if documents are already in place but they are the only person able to locate them) or cancelled and lost visits. Worse, with the HSE, it could result in enforcement action if things have been missed or you are unable to produce the necessary documentation when inspected.

Don’t forget, all employers must appoint one or more competent persons to help them meet the requirements of health and safety law – this must be someone who has sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow them to assist you properly. If you don’t, or this person leaves, you may be left in a position of non-compliance with section 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations. It’s therefore best to appoint more than one, which can include external consultants.

Additionally, these single points of failure could necessitate a complete reset of your safety management system. This could involve statutory testing needing to be redone at great cost and/or the reproduction of documentation and refreshing training, all of which are huge drains on resources.

Continuity issues aside, relying on one person to manage health and safety can also adversely affect your safety culture, with it becoming ‘one person’s problem’ rather than a shared responsibility. It can also contribute to a sense that health and safety is more about one person enforcing rules and cracking the whip, reinforcing negative perceptions.

Above all, single points of failure can make workplaces less safe. If there’s nobody to take the lead on the key actions in each area of the Plan, Do, Check, Act model, and to champion good health and safety practices and call out bad ones, businesses may quickly become non-compliant and poor practices may start to creep in, putting people at risk. After all, one missed risk assessment can be all it takes for hazards to be missed and accidents to occur.

What's the solution?

So what should organisations be doing to minimise the impact of recruitment and retention difficulties on safety standards?

Systems-wise, embracing technology plays a big part. With health and safety software such as SafetyNest, you can give multiple people within your organisation the ability to see any complete and outstanding actions, generate and manage risk assessments, build their own health and safety checks, record accidents, run reports and access all your key health and safety documentation, so that you’re not left in the lurch should the person with primary responsibility for health and safety leave.

Those who aren’t heavily involved in health and safety might not need to use the system daily or understand the intricate details of how it works, but it will certainly help if they know where to find things and what they can use it for.

As a minimum, they should know where safety documentation is stored, whether it’s kept digitally or in a folder somewhere. It is, however, far better to use digital storage as there’s less risk of things being misplaced or lost during periods of staff changeover.

Above all, involve more of your staff in health and safety:

  • Train and brief multiple staff members to carry out key health and safety tasks and help them understand the why, what and how behind your systems and procedures. You could have people shadow your primary health and safety person so that they are ready and able to step in if needed.
  • Delegate certain health and safety responsibilities so that you are less reliant on one person. You could consider using a rota so that this doesn’t take too much time away from any one person’s day job.
  • Use eLearning to help ensure everyone in your organisation knows how to work safely on a daily basis, putting less pressure on one individual and reducing the risk of accidents when cover is low.

Finally, consider outsourced support. That way, you have the reassurance that there’s always someone competent who you can turn to for advice and guidance – someone who understands your organisation and your health and safety system. That person will also provide much-needed consistency in the event that one person leaves, not only keeping your business compliant but helping to get their successor up to speed.

With businesses focused on many other things right now, including weathering the current economic crisis, the last thing you want to do is see your hard work undone and have to have to spend time and money starting your health and safety journey from scratch.

Related Content

Eliminate single points of failure with expert support

Whether you don’t have the luxury or an in-house health and safety person or would benefit from additional professional support, WorkNest can help you keep your organisation safe and compliant – even during periods of staffing shortages – through dedicated consultant support, annual safety audits and simple-to-use risk management software.

Our fixed-fee service is the smart solution to health and safety management, providing consistent, cost-effective support delivered by a named point of contact who will get to know your business so they can assist you as an extension of your team.

For more information, get in touch on 0345 226 8393 or request your free consultation using the button below.

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