The Importance Of Planning
“Planning and implementing” are the subjects of Element 4 of the NEBOSH General Certificate and they form steps one (Plan) and two (Do) of the PDCA cycle (steps three and four being Check and Act). But I often get asked exactly what plan and do actually mean.
Managing health and safety is generally described as a ‘systematic’ operation, and this is why eyes often begin to glaze over; surely we’ve already done the planning bit by putting together a policy statement and all the supporting bumph. You reckon?
What we should have in place is a plan that lets us identify the health and safety requirements, put control measures in place and maintain them – make sure they stay in place and actually work. So, is this the health and safety policy, then? No – but it is based on the policy, so we can take it forward from there.
OK – back to square one. The policy statement sets out aims and objectives. This PLAN we’re talking about now is where we look through the responsibilities, and the arrangements that support the policy statement, and see what we now need to DO to actually make it work. In other words, plan exactly how we will achieve the aims of the policy and what we will do to put the plan in place.
Now let’s go back to ‘systematically’. There are two ways to go about something : haphazardly (can’t be good – it contains the word ‘hazard’), or systematically (must be good – it contains the word ‘system’). ‘Systematically’ simply means we have something – a ‘system’ – to follow; it akes the guesswork out (the ‘hap’ in haphazard). So I reckon that means “haphazard” translates as ‘dangerous guesswork’. I like that!
The RRC course notes help us a lot here – look at the SMART objectives: how systematic is that? Let’s remind ourselves what they are again:
- Specific – we need a clearly defined, precise objective (based on the aims and objectives we have already set in the policy);
- Measurable – how much of our progress towards achieving the aims can we actually measure? What measurement do we apply? How often do we need to measure?
- Achievable – it must be able to be done, so think ‘real world’;
- Reasonable – think of reasonably practicable and work back! We must be able to get this target met in a sensible timescale and with sensibly allocated resources (remember the ‘resources’ part of the policy?);
- Time-bound – we must have a target date and do all we can to get there in time and on time.
So, to be SMART a health and safety management system must make sense. It must meet the objectives; it must do so on time; it must do so without costing too much (in money and time); and it must be able to be measured along the way. That way you’ll know when you get there.
You can’t measure success if you don’t know what it looks like, so what should we be aiming for?
- Compliance with our policy;
- Compliance with the law;
- Meeting the requirements of our insurance companies;
- Identifying the hazards that are in our workplace and the work we do there – and trying to get rid of them;
- Assessing the risks of those we can’t get rid of;
- Putting precautions in place to control the risks that are left;
- Using the best technology (based on risks and cost);
- Staying within the bounds of the company’s financial capabilities;
- Meeting all operational requirements;
- Meeting all reasonable business needs – those of our workforce and customers;
- Satisfying the needs of all other interested parties – through consultation with employees, supervisors, managers, contractors, clients, customers, landlords, etc.
And, above all:
- Sending our employees home in the evening at least in the same state they came to work in the morning – in other words, no injuries and no ill health.
Roger Passey Dip2OSH MIOSH (retired)
Occupational health and safety consultant
Roger has been working in health and safety since 1988 and as a consultant since 2004. Formerly a chartered IOSH member, he now enjoys retired status.