Skills Development and the Whole Person Approach

Published: Friday, November 20, 2020 - 08:19

Throughout this campaign, we have stressed the importance of the “Whole Person” approach to health and safety. Last week, we went so far as to outline how ports have tackled each component of the model individually. However, we haven’t spoken at length on how the skills necessary to develop the “Whole Person” approach can be taught. Today, Dr Alan Page of Middlesex University, and director on the board of PSS, discusses what he sees as the five essential steps to honing the skills of your workforce to prevent accidents.


Dr Alan Page
Dr Alan Page

Education is the key to enacting good health and safety practices. From the new apprentice to the veteran of twenty-five years, there must be consideration given to the development of the correct skills to ensure the safest possible environment. In this, there are five important points which must be factored.

  1. Safety must be embedded as part of a wider development of skills. For every job there are a series of task specific skills such as being able to drive a forklift truck or for a marine pilot to know how to navigate the water. Health and safety training might form part of this initial competency but frequently there is a gap between this theory and the realities of the work environment.   When you take on a new employee there is a period of initial learning of local practice, and local setting and there is a need to embed the safety culture and practices specific to the setting at this point as part of their training.  However it is not a single action and this needs revisiting when processes, practices etc, alter. If all port workers are taught in such a manner, then we would have developed a sector which has safety seen as part of daily practice. Only then may we begin to see further improvements to the accident statistics. That said this is not necessarily a call for standardisation across the industry. There is no one size fits all approach, and training must be contextual to the individual ports.

  2. A focus on safety cannot stand alone from the main operational business goal. Health and safety is often seen as a business cost whether it is in the form of training, equipment or added processes. However recent examples from the construction sector have seen operational change and business enhancement when operations are looked though a health and safety lens.  Safe businesses frequently get more business.  However there is also the hidden costs arising from a poor health and safety performance.  Injuries lead to costs in delayed production, staff sick leave, increased insurance premiums as well as costs involved in investigation.  Alongside this are the risks of the HSE prosecuting and potential civil action. The HSE estimates that any accident would have a detrimental effect to a business on a ratio of between 1:8 and 1:36. In short, for every pound initially saved, an accident could lose a further £8 to £36. Therefore, safety is entirely compatible with operational goals. These costs also do not account for the subsequent loss in morale that would result.

  3. The development of port skills and personnel, of which safety is only one part, should align to corporate goals and be part of business development.  A strong recruitment and retention strategy retains staff and develops the necessary skills to enhance the business.  As part of this workers who do not feel safe or cared for are less productive and may leave the organisation creating a new cost in training new personnel. It is important, therefore, that when embedding health and safety that it is done in the context of the business and not seen as stand-alone. Explaining why good safety is good business should be part of the overarching skills development. 

  4. Skills development should form part of the “Whole Person” approach to enhance operational capacity. For example shift patterns such as those adopted by the emergency services or major infrastructural projects result in long periods away from family.  Their absence places a stress on the family who recognise this absence in what are often high risk activities with a risk that they may not return home safe and well. There is also a stress on the worker who is absent from their family who may become subdued or distracted. As was outlined last week, a worker does not leave their personal life at the port gates. Intensive training and long shifts can impact on stress, attentiveness and care and thereby consequently increases their chance of being involved in or responsible for an accident. It is crucial to remember that these external factors change from day to day as does the capacity to cope.  As such ensuring that you have mechanisms to recognise these impacts are central to the whole person approach.

  5. The “Whole Person” approach can and should encompass task and sector skills, as well as safety at work, but should also include recognising mental and physical health markers. For fear of over-stating this point, a worker is a multi-faceted human being first and a port asset second. They can only perform their secondary duties once their primary concerns have been dealt with. In the short term, this requires operators to be aware of their staff and choose the right person for the right job, with the right attitudes to embed safety into a wider task, business minded and sector skill set. However as employers it is critical to recognise the team as a dynamic both in the short and long term.  The young 20 year old apprentice will need different support to that of an older staff member both in terms of capacity and capability.  The “Whole Person” seeks to understand this and this judgement in itself is a key skill to be developed.

 Whole Person

Health and safety isn’t about maintaining the status quo, and as an industry we must ward of complacency in the classroom as much as in the boardroom. The “Whole Person” approach is a comprehensive framework for reducing accidents in the workplace, but it should not be treated as a one size fits all model. It certainly can’t be used as a checklist to protect against litigation. If your port is over-performing in one area, use your individual circumstances to inform where additional resources can be used. It may take time, especially given the unique situation we find ourselves in, however in the long run, this approach will pay dividends for the balance sheet as much as the accident reports.