How health and safety can contribute to the efficiency agenda

Health and safety is often wrongly perceived as just another layer of bureaucracy, and yet successful health and safety management enhances a university’s reputation, says Gary Wood of the Universities Safety and Health Association.

Bureaucratic, a “necessary evil”, someone else’s responsibility and “a tick-box exercise by the clipboard brigade”. Believe me, I’ve heard them all. But these common misconceptions of health and safety are missing the point.

Skilled management of these issues can support inspirational teaching and pioneering research, enabling strategic objectives to be met. And by sharing training resources, universities can also contribute to meeting efficiency goals.

Gary Wood speaking at an USHA conference in 2014

I believe that health and safety should be positioned as an efficient core process of each institution, and USHA, the association of which I am the current chair, works with practitioners up and down the country to seek this goal.

Web-based training

Through our newly-formed training, development and competency group, we are seeking to provide resources to help universities ensure that the health and safety competencies across their communities and arrangements for health and safety risk management are both sensible and efficient.

USHA is seeking funding to deliver a number of projects that can lead to greater efficiency and produce benefits for the sector as a whole. For example, we want to explore the provision of health and safety training through web-based platforms.

Currently, institutions are paying tens of thousands of pounds to commercial training providers, purchasing generic packages, having these adapted and then incurring ongoing running costs.

A shared service approach

Is there a better way? Yes, there could be significant benefits in creating shared, web-based resources easily adaptable to local policies, working arrangements, terminologies and IT systems.

We are not attempting a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution of centrally developed packages for use by any university. Each university’s uniqueness would make this a very complicated exercise.

Collaboration for skill sharing

There are opportunities for collaboration with USHA’s other specialist and project groups.  The Fire Group wishes to explore accredited training for fire risk assessors. This will enhance training transfer by being sector-orientated, increase skill-sharing opportunities and retain resource in the sector. Securing accreditation will also ensure credibility of the qualification and that skills are transferable.

We are also looking at competency frameworks and development opportunities to assist integrating health and safety into job roles and responsibilities across all staff groups, recruitment to specific health and safety posts and succession planning.

So, I hope you’ll agree with me that these planned initiatives represent much more than a ‘box-ticking’ exercise. They have potential to make a real contribution to efficiency and effectiveness in higher education. To find out more, please visit the USHA website.

Gary Wood is the acting chair of the Universities Safety and Health Association