SHEilds Ltd

Red Card, Yellow Card – Health & Safety and Workplace Abuse

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Courtesy of Courtesy of SHEilds Ltd

Clamping Down on Abusive and Offensive Behaviour

After listening to a radio debate on the proposed Football Premier league’s crackdown on indiscipline proposed for this season I thought it may make a good blog subject for this week, hopefully sparking a debate amongst Health & Safety professionals when related to Safety management and the attitudes of some employees and managers.

The Premier League and Football League announced a joint attempt to put an end to “unacceptable participant conduct”, to this end they have instructed match officials to take a harder line with both players and managers whose conduct towards the officials is considered to be offensive or abusive.

The guidance being given to officials is along the lines of:

  • Running to contest decisions, arguing face-to-face with officials, and “visibly disrespectful” actions will result in yellow cards.
  • Red cards will be issued to players who confront officials and use insulting and/or offensive language or gestures towards them.

Frustration, regulations and human nature

Too many times last season I found myself frustrated at the surrounding of officials, the blatant disrespect afforded them on national TV and how much this had become accepted practice within the game. I look forward to seeing what changes the new guidelines bring for the season ahead, however I can’t help thinking; is it time for us to do the same in Health and Safety?

The role of Health and Safety professionals is in many ways similar to that of the match officials, when you consider, we as professionals will be responsible for enforcing the rules and regulations of the area under our control. We are often the point of contact and the bridge between employees and management, dealing with both on a day to day basis. This as we know often leads to situations in which conflicting opinions arise and must be dealt with; a good Health & Safety professional must be seen – very much like match officials – to be fair, consistent and unbiased in their decisions.

I and many of my friends and colleagues in the industry have received varying levels of abuse from both management and employees in the performance of their duties. Whilst I accept this is part of the job, should I? Probably not is the answer or we encourage the cultural disrespect we have seen in football.

Although you will never prevent honest emotional outburst as this is human nature, can we prevent or discourage the acceptance of this cultural reaction to Health and Safety professionals and is this the time to adopt guidelines and systems similar to the red and yellow card system?

I can hear many of my older colleagues shouting at me now, with the argument that a prerequisite of a good Health and Safety professional is to be able to deal with conflict and learn how to manage this whether it be from above or below. I agree with this to an extent but as with the match officials, why should we, where do we draw the line, what are we teaching the next generation of managers/employees and where does it end?

Do you think this is maybe the time to take this high profile example and try to change the attitudes with clear guidelines and penalties? Have we tried the encouragement and buy in to safety methods for too long and has this worked?

What we can learn, how we can do better

Some organisations, particularly construction already use yellow and red card systems or two and three strike systems for non-compliance to site rules. I don’t know of any that will extend these to abusive behaviour towards the safety representative although they will obviously deal with this as a disciplinary issue when reported.

Whilst I accept this tends to be less of an issue in organisations who deal predominately with their own employees, because of internal disciplinary systems and the ability to influence culture and expectation, it does still exist. I think in writing this my thoughts were probably drawn more towards contractor culture and medium to large projects when a wide range of trades and company standards are involved and abuse is still common place.

Food for thought I hope and here are a few questions for you if this has provoked enough of a reaction for you to respond to me with your opinions:

  • What do you think?
  • Do we need to start addressing this, is there a problem?
  • Would a carding system similar to that in football be the way to go about it?
  • Should we produce guidelines so it is clear to everyone what is unacceptable behaviour towards safety representatives?
  • Do you have a better system in place?
  • Is there enough guidance and support from professional bodies?

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