Sometime ago I was in a meeting, I recall there were no windows in the room it was late and we still had loads left on the agenda. I was listening to similar issues that I’m sure we all encounter wherever we work. I say that because they certainly seem to be reoccurring themes to me.
You see we were talking about a not great response rate to a health surveillance questionnaire, which had been sent out to ‘at risk’ employees for them to complete and return having had a briefing from their gaffer first. We were told what process had been used to get the questionnaires out, and what information the briefing contained – all standard stuff.
But one of my colleagues then made a cracking observation, all the time in the conversation words like ‘surveillance’, ‘fit to work’ and ‘not fit to work’ were being used and he wondered whether that might be the problem.
Spot on I thought!
While the law might jabber on about health surveillance and we might have ‘fit for work’ forms, it doesn’t mean we have to use the words. After all say ‘surveillance’ to me and I think people taking pictures from behind net curtains of what’s cracking off on the street below, or of someone tailing you and making notes on where you go and them using it against you.
It’s also like having safety policies and statements that say ‘you will do …’ to the reader, they think safety is being done to them and so don’t connect with it (or to use more fancy business speak, they don’t engage fully with safety). Whereas saying ‘we’ll do’ feels so much better and sounds like we’re all in it together.
I can’t help but feel we need to think far more as a profession about how we communicate about safety and health (HEALTH WARNING: the more traditional re-guard amongst us, will have a fit about what I’m going to say next), rewording stuff can make a massive difference and may help us achieve what we’re trying to achieve a bit quicker and less painfully.
Twenty minutes after the agenda item on health surveillance started and with the debate raging on, I was left with two clear themes in my mind:
1. Don’t call them health surveillance questionnaires. They’re health checks.
2. Sell the benefits: we want to make sure you’ll in good health and that we’re doing all we can for you, so that you can carry on enjoying your time outside of work.
I have to confess I’d zoned out at this point and was more concerned about where the cakes were that someone had brought in!
BSc (Hons), CMIOSH, MIIRSM, AIEMA
Richard Byrne has a first-class combined honours degree in ergonomics and health and safety management, along with 10 years’ broad health, safety and environmental experience. He is a chartered member of IOSH, a member of IIRSM and an associate member of IEMA.