MORE AND MORE ATTENTION GOES TO PEOPLE
In order to develop a side programme on themes that really matter, Easyfairs conducted a large-scale survey on health, safety and wellbeing in the run-up to Secura. The high number of responses proves that these topics are now more than ever in the spotlight. Of course, the question is to which extent the responses are representative for all Belgian companies. That is why Easyfairs submitted the results to an expert on the matter: Koen Bollaerts, prevention advisor/HSEQ manager at construction company Algemene Aannemingen Van Laere and also director-president at Prebes for the province of Antwerp.
The major conclusion of the survey on health, safety and wellbeing is that many companies still have questions about the basics. Evacuation exercises, the preparation of a risk analysis and a job safety analysis and the preparation of safety instruction cards mark the top four of the results.“That was quite a surprise”, says Koen Bollaerts. “These items have been required by law for years. However, it is not all that unexpected either. Via Prebes and other channels, I have found that people often struggle to make the transition from theory to practice. The fact that risk analysis and such score so high is probably due to the fact that this topic encompasses many different domains. I can imagine that some companies no longer see the wood for the trees. Regarding the safety instruction cards, we have a work group at Prebes who prepares them and makes them available to the members. We notice that many companies eagerly make use of that. Why evacuation exercises still raise so many questions is not really clear to me. Maybe it has to do with the terrorist threat, but I doubt that. Practice shows that many companies, especially the small ones, are not occupied with this matter. I can only guess the why of this cry for information.
OPT FOR A HOLISTIC APPROACH
Another notable conclusion is that the human resources aspect of health, safety and wellbeing is making a great advance.
Koen Bollaerts: “Most companies have the ‘technical’ aspect of safe work under control by now. So, more space and time can be freed to put more focus on the people. And that is a good thing. For example, the ageing population is a widespread phenomenon that will only increase in the years to come. Add to that the recent government decisions that everyone will have to work longer and it is quite logical that companies are not sure how they should deal with all this. However, the focus cannot go to the older employees only. Burnouts, absenteeism, stress, 24/24 reachability, rapid technological evolution, etc. are not related to age or even the job after all. As a company, you must ensure that every employee feels comfortable in the workplace. That is why I am somewhat surprised that matching the work station to the age of the employee is on the third place, while other aspects such as stress, working from home, ageing employees, workable work, etc. score much lower. This means that many companies do not consider wellbeing as a whole. However, such fragmented approach brings little grist to the mill. Within Algemene Aannemingen Van Laere, we focus on the overall picture. In that light, we will roll out next year a vitality program to address all these issues. Of course, as a construction company we must pay special attention to the ageing population. And I admit: finding the right answers is quite a challenge. After all, you cannot retrain everyone from a certain age to become a crane operator or warehouse worker. We also realize that, at the same time, it is important to attract younger employees and to keep them in our team. Otherwise, the continuity of our operations is at risk. We can therefore conclude that wellbeing is a very complex issue and I can very well imagine that many companies are looking for ideas and answers. My advice: address the problem in its totality!”
SAFETY CULTURE: A LONG-TERM PROCESS
A third important set of issues that raises questions for the respondents is everything that has to do with safety culture.
Koen Bollaerts thinks that is only logical. “Machines become safer, personal protective equipment becomes more comfortable and procedures become more refined. However, that does not necessarily mean that people are already performing their duties in a safe way. To achieve that, you need a culture where employees recognize the importance of working safely. They must have the mindset to follow the procedures, be open to feedback when they are working unsafely and take the initiative themselves to address colleagues on this matter. This is a long-term process in which counselling is central and the necessary creativity is required to deliver the message again and again. Without provoking feelings of irritation or paternalism. It is an art in which prevention advisors can improve by continuous learning and gathering new ideas. That is why I think it is normal that safety culture does so well in the survey. The good news is that the Secura visitors will find quite some information about this and also about the other items they are struggling with. By tradition, this trade fair not only offers a comprehensive overview of all possible products, services and novelties. Easyfairs will again develop a very attractive side programme that will be a true source of inspiration for every visitor.”