Sam Sherwood-Hale spoke to Andrea Dodds TechIOSH MIIRSM MILM Managing Director at SHEQworx Ltd about data protection, working environments and the ‘Golden Thread’ of Health and Safety

How did Data Protection and GDPR change the way you approach your work?

The first thing I did in 2016 when I learned about GDPR was to go straight to the actual GDP Regulations (avoiding all the guidance documents) print a copy off, break it down and translate it into an actionable checklist.

The following day, as a team, we conducted a data specific risk assessment in each department, and then collectively as a business. We critically reviewed each of our work practices, systems, procedures, and forms.

We evaluated what type of data we were collecting, how, and when. We looked at how it was stored, when and who was responsible for accessing and processing it, and from where. We carefully considered if we needed each piece of information we were asking for, and even removed or amended elements in our documents and software.

Data Protection is an Agenda item, it has been for a number of years, and it forms part of our continual improvement process.

Because we handle a range of sensitive and personal data (especially when developing and processing our Independent Health and Wellbeing Surveys, Training, and other supporting services), it’s imperative we have the right people in the right roles to respect the privacy and confidentiality that our clients and their staff expect. Thankfully we have a great team at SHEQworx Ltd!

Every single call and document received is treated considerately and kept confidential at all times. Our clients don’t even get to see the individual responses!

What is a typical reaction from a client when you say ‘health and safety’, ‘compliance’, ‘audit’, or ‘admin’?

Laughs. If it’s a rail client or someone from a high-risk environment, the reaction is more tempered along the lines of ‘I know we have to do it, so let’s get on with it.’

However, if it’s someone from an SME and they’re not from a high-risk industry, and I’m meeting them in person for the first time, as soon as I mention ‘health and safety’ it’s not uncommon to get an exaggerated eye roll, often accompanied with a heavy sigh, followed by ‘I’d rather stick pins in my eyes’.

If I go with ‘compliance’ or ‘audit’, a client can be standoffish at first, maybe even a bit defensive and guarded, until they realise I’m not your typical Health and Safety professional.

I genuinely want to help, and wherever I can, I will use my legal knowledge and experience to help them protect their people and their business. I insist on all of my clients being open, honest, and transparent with me from the outset. I can’t protect them against threats or risks I am unaware of. I’ve even been described as: ‘the health and safety professional the lads actually want to work with, not run and hide from!’

Drawing on over 25 years’ experience in the UK rail industry, SHEQworx Ltd proactively and collaboratively works with leaders and managers to help them avoid accidents, injuries, and ill-health whilst improving their bottom line, and reputation across the industry.

How does the SHEQ Action Plan combine Occupational Health & Safety with Environmental and Quality elements?

Our SHEQ Action Plan combines the management arrangements of each of the SHEQ elements (including wellbeing), and this forms our framework, dovetailing them to reduce and eliminate duplication.

As each Action Plan is tailored to the individual client and the business we are working with, the Actions and timeframes can differ greatly between clients. Some businesses are just starting out on their journey towards tacking compliance, whilst others have started and stalled because it got too overwhelming, whilst others discovered it was a ‘confusing minefield’ and making things and generating sales is where their time and energy was best placed.

Let’s consider the receipt and dissemination of information for example. In our industry, as we all know, communication can be safety critical.

So, to ensure important safety critical information is not missed or deleted by accident, it’s important to identify the various sources and types of all information in the first instance.

The process we use with our clients in this instance looks like this:

  1. We identify what information is being received into the business, from where/ whom and in what form?
  2. We identify who receives it, who processes it, and has it been competently reviewed and processed?
  3. Who else needs to see it, what does it mean for the business, what do we need to do with it.
  4. The final step is to determine, how and where we shall store it in case we need to refer to it again.

With hybrid working, reduced hours in the office etc, there’s never been a better time to review your processes and systems and look for those cracks where information could be misplaced, lost, or just not communicated, etc.

You see Health and Safety as the ‘Golden Thread’ that runs through every aspect of business, how can companies fully embrace this mentality?

If you look at the definition of ‘the golden thread’ it points towards alignment within an organisation, and for me that’s Health and Safety management in a nutshell.

Some of the larger corporations in the industry have a Head of Health and Safety (or other title covering the role), sitting on the top table and actively involved in the core values and direction of the business.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case with the smaller companies in the industry. Some businesses are still not embracing the benefits of having your health and safety professional involved in the strategic decisions, and as a result, you can expect ‘firefighting’, reactivity, and having to tackle the same problems, day in, day out.

A recurring theme for me and other Site Managers is regularly having to ask labour-only contractors, ‘where is your PPE’ and ‘why are you not wearing it’, often closely followed by ‘go get it’, and/or ‘use  it properly!’ You’ve probably experienced something similar?

The problems we were experiencing on site were significantly reduced when I enlightened the Procurement Department of a large contractor to our daily struggles, and offered a solution! (Struggles they were not even aware of because they didn’t visit site.)

It was frustrating me that valuable time and energy was being wasted on a recurring nuisance of a problem, and one way of solving the problem was to share that frustration with the suppliers – in a way they would understand.

Within a few weeks we were able to walk around site and not be distracted by PPE issues.

What are some of the main reasons companies come to you for Health and Safety Training?

As a licensed Adult Mental Health First Aid Trainer for MHFA England, many companies are sending delegates to us because they genuinely want to improve the health and wellbeing of their workers, as part of their Health & Wellbeing Strategy, and/or to improve the organisation’s awareness of mental health generally.

Unfortunately, we get some delegates attending the course because they’ve been sent as a box ticking exercise by their managers. Luckily for them they enjoyed the course!

Companies come to us for health and safety training because we are knowledgeable in the theory and teaching practices of the course materials, but we also have the personality and real-life experience to share our own experiences and lessons learned – especially in the areas of risk management and legal compliance.

Since the start of Covid, we’ve noticed an uptake in the number of requests to deliver Health and Wellbeing Workshops, not only along the lines of raising awareness and developing workplace strategies, but also to include or concentrate on self-care, building resilience, and/or preventing the development of ill health – physically and mentally.

How do you develop your Action Plans?

We use a three Stage, six-step process, which is done in collaboration with each of our clients and individual workers – once they’ve been identified to us. This helps to build the framework I mentioned earlier.

Stage 1: Evaluation & Planning
1.1. A collaborative review of the current position and any benchmarks,
1.2 The production of a gap analysis report, and the development of a step-by-step plan

Stage 2: Implementation Stage
2.1 The client allocates and releases the required resources – time, money, people
2.2 Tasks and actions are assigned to individuals, along with timescales

Stage 3: Review & Improve
3.1 Outcomes are measured
3.2 Performance is reviewed, including any lessons learned or improvements suggested.

At the very beginning, before we launch each Stage, and throughout the entire process, we explain what it’s all about, what can be expected, how it will work, and ensure the appropriate people are involved from the outset.

We routinely check-in with the individuals, teams, and the senior management, and provide whatever support, encouragement, and guidance as necessary.

How collaborative is your six-step process?

Our six-step process is extremely collaborative, and that’s something we insist on. There’s nothing worse than being in an organisation with change happening around you with no idea what’s going on, why, or how it will affect you and your role!

We’ve had enough uncertainty in the workplace since Covid, so let’s not create unnecessary stress and anxiety when we don’t need to.

For us, collaboration, transparency, and effective communication is key across everything we do.

From the moment we are engaged to develop an Action Plan for a company, and once we have got a measure of what the client is asking for, we ask for a meeting with both the senior and line managers.

In this meeting we identify ourselves and the reason(s) why we are here. We explain what will be happening, when, and how, and we try to get the buy-in from each person in that meeting. Their individual and collective input is essential throughout the process. This is where we counter as many objections as possible, and listen to any concerns.

We then introduce each stage, explain what it looks like and what everyone can expect. We check in regularly with each manager and/or individual assigned a task to make sure they understand what is required, and support them if they are experiencing any difficulties.

At the end of each stage, we review progress, feed back to the group, and then move onto the next stage.

Once we’ve completed all three Stages, we review and measure the progress against the Action Plan we created, and conduct another gap analysis, which we present to the client and the group.

For continual improvement going forwards after we leave, the client and the team now have the tools and confidence they need to restart the process, whenever and as often as they choose.

What are some of the major challenges you’ve faced when helping companies to develop these Plans?

Occasionally we experience ‘pushback’ by some of the middle-managers or workers, and we understand that. Change can be unnerving and unsettling.

In these instances, we find that the business owner or senior management haven’t communicated their intentions with the workforce, and this naturally causes some anxiety and stress. Many believe we are there to conduct an exercise that will ultimately lead to redundancies when in fact, the opposite is true. Quite a few businesses that request an Action Plan are looking to scale-up, take on more work, and/ or bid for larger contracts.

Another challenge we face sometimes is the client not providing the necessary resources for us all to proceed with the Action Plan, or people taking annual leave at the same time, or even shut-down periods.

That said, each of our Action Plans are produced to incorporate buffers to allow for any planned shutdowns, peaks and troughs of production cycles, and/or holiday periods.

When it comes to your Safety Climate Surveys, do you notice trends that cut across different sectors?

One of the biggest recurring themes across our Safety Climate Surveys concerns middle to mid-senior managers and the lack of training, competence, and/or supervision given to some of them. Often there appears to be a character change, sometimes the character is not a good fit for a management role, or the reasons behind their appointment or promotion might not be considered fair or ethical.

For example, comments about the organisation’s management received included: ‘[x person] was promoted too soon’, ‘[x person] has not had enough training or supervision’, ‘[x person] was
great on the job, but he’s a [expletive] manager’, ‘personality has changed, used to like them before, but now he’s a [expletive]’, ‘can’t manage people’, ‘has poor management skills’, ‘they’re on the graduate fast track, and being groomed for bigger things so I can’t say anything or I’ll be out, but he’s a bully’ and, ‘it’s the boss’s son’ etc.

The concerning thing for me is that in some instances the individual holding a management position was creating or contributing to a hostile working environment, bullying workers, and even
adversely affecting the safety culture to the point that workers would actively choose to stay silent – especially after feeling vilified for raising what they believed to be a genuine safety concern at the time.

In smaller companies, this can make for a toxic working environment if ignored or not handled well, directly impacting on absence stats amongst other things.

Have you seen any trends forming over the last two years, during the pandemic?

There were three notable trends from what I could see.

The first, was a rise in the number of people working from home, and the advent of ‘hybrid’ working.

The second was a rise in the number of people struggling with their mental health, partly from being isolated at home during lockdown (especially those who had to shield on the grounds of health / medical reasons). Anxiety and loneliness were prevalent, along with stress and depression for those whose jobs and livelihoods were threatened, especially those SME’s who relied on work from the larger contractors.

The third related to the accident stats reducing, especially during the best part of the two years from March 2020 to March 2022. It’s safe to say, they’ll probably be increasing again now there’s an
overwhelming feeling that things are pretty much back to normal.

Andrea Dodds TechIOSH MIIRSM MILM is Managing Director at SHEQworx Ltd