A guest post by Nigel Bryson, Director, BRYSON Consulting.

Leadership and Worker Involvement are the two central themes of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work’s ‘Working together for risk prevention’ campaign. The importance of leadership in health and safety is obvious and has been stated many times: but what about worker involvement?

In a government report in 2009 – ‘Engaging for Success’ – the researchers undertook a huge literature search, publishing nearly 50 case studies, and concluded that the greater the worker involvement, the greater the business performance of the organisation. The researchers stated that the value of worker involvement was ‘blindingly obvious’ and it should be at the centre of any organisation’s business strategy.

In a 2011 article from the Harvard Business it was concluded from over 100 studies that: ‘engaged employees …. are significantly more productive, drive higher customer satisfaction and outperform those who are less engaged.’

Would you believe it!! Create an environment in which employees feel valued and their opinion is worth seeking; and actively encourage them to help shape managerial decision making – and the result is better business performance!

By 1995 evidence from the whole of the UK manufacturing sector identified that where trade union safety representatives worked with managers, usually through a safety committee, accident rates were 50% less than where managers alone made decisions over health and safety. Yet it took five years before worker involvement was formally adopted into the HSC Revitalising Health and Safety Strategy Document in the year 2000.

In their 2009 Strategy the HSE made it clear that worker involvement is the key to improving health and safety standards: ‘Workplace research provides evidence to suggest that involving workers has a positive effect on health and safety performance. Equally, there is strong evidence that unionised workplaces and those with health and safety representatives are safer and healthier as a result.’

In the evidence based review of health and safety regulation Professor Löfstedt was able to conclude:  ‘Boosting the responsibility and involvement of employees has the potential to bring about significant improvements in health and safety in the workplace. Evidence clearly shows that when employees are actively engaged in health and safety management, workplaces have lower accident rates.’

The evidence that greater worker involvement has the potential to ‘significantly improve’ health, safety and business performance is overwhelming. It could be expected that the HSE would pull out all the stops to support this. Yet they estimate that 60% of employees in Britain are not consulted by their employers. Not only is this illegal, consultation is the bare legal minimum that employers are required to undertake for all workers. It appears the majority of employers cannot even manage the most basic of health and safety management!!

We don’t need any more studies on worker involvement. What we need is recognition that the workers can provide many of the health, safety and business solutions to meet the current health, safety and economic challenges. Employers then need to implement action programmes to inspire workers to assist managers to develop these practical solutions.

People support what they help create. They just need to be given a chance.

BRYSON Consulting specialises in worker involvement in health and safety. Nigel Bryson is also author of “Zero Harm”