Central West Health & Rehabilitation
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Work debate spaces: Improve safety practices with employee input. Oct 15th, 2014
In daily work, there will always be situations that are either not covered by the rules or in which the rules are locally inapplicable. To foster participatory approaches in safety it is necessary to develop means to consider the actual organization and interactions among workers.

Safety relies on the ability of workers to assess the applicability of procedures and adaptations to carry them out. In order to progress, it is necessary to consider the safety approach as adaptive, dynamic, and developmental. Although the concepts around the development of a safety and safety culture are well developed, tools and methods that enable practitioners to ensure that the system in which they work are resilient and able to bounce back quickly to errors or other unexpected events are required.

Participatory approaches may play a key role. But how to develop participatory approaches that articulate the formal and the living organization? A possible way is the discussion and confrontation of points of view between different stakeholders of the organization around elements of the real work.

Work debate spaces (WDS)

To foster participatory approaches in safety it is necessary to develop means to consider the actual organization and interactions among workers. These are concepts developed by the approaches ‘Strategizing’ and ‘Work of Organization’.

Strategizing: This approach integrates the routines of meetings, discussions, or data processing in the definition and implementation of a ‘strategy’. It is important that the strategic issues of the organization are not decided and imposed by the leaders, but rather are the result of a daily construction with all stakeholders of the organization.

Work of Organization: This approach describes a living organization: occupational rules are developed by the employees in order to mitigate the defects of the formal organization, and to develop safety.

Both approaches consider an organization defined simultaneously by the leaders and by local and temporary regulations constructed by employees in the field. The questions they raise are needed to feed the managerial and strategic levels of the organization.

Articulating safety challenges is only possible with a working group to identify the situations that are particularly difficult to manage, to discuss them within the organizations and to propose changes.

WDS's are a time for discussion. The group advocates the discussion of work on a regular and protected basis, coordinated by a manager who does not belong to the direct hierarchy (e.g. Health and Safety Representatives). This method acts as a medium that deals with all the arrangements, compromises and adaptations that are required for safety system changes.

WDS permit not only the improvement of safety, but also help develop the competences of the employees, management and HR department with the bigger picture realities of health and safety. It allows safety to move beyond the traditional perimeter of the retrospective analysis of dysfunctions, and enter in learning dynamic starting with field situations. It allows the development of safety by different levels in the company, and progresses the organization beginning with experiences within the organization itself. This permits the development of an enabling environment for safety

It is necessary that the executive committee be engaged in the process by supplying the technical, organizational, and human means so that the WDS can be instigated. A preliminary phase is necessary, based on observations and interviews with workers, to engage the elements for the development of the WDS. Within these spaces, some conditions are defined so that people can experience the improvement proposals: a discussion based on real work activity, a joint elaboration and evaluation of solutions based on a dynamics of confrontation.