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Health and safety management has historically been a corporate mandate that starts at the top levels of a business and filters down. But what if this isn’t the best way to meet EHS compliance?


Often when processes are conceived in a boardroom, there has been little interaction with the workers who are actually affected by them - the workers who are on the ground, physically embodying the operations of a business. This can result in decision making that is out of touch with reality and difficult to assimilate into the daily operations of a business. It can affect the engagement of the workers who were not consulted, often leaving them disenfranchised by the new processes or protocols and therefore they are unlikely to endorse them. This is where there is a case to be made for bottom up safety management.

What is bottom up safety management?

Bottom up safety management employs the process known as Experience Based Quantification (EBQ). In other words, the information used to justify decisions is collected from real world experience at the source. For example, a forklift driver on a factory floor will better understand the challenges and issues faced in their department because they experience those challenges personally. A bottom up approach will collect this data and use it to inform any decisions made that affect the factory floor. Perhaps the forklift drivers have found that since an increase in the production of the company’s product, they are often under pressure to move faster on the factory floor. They identify through consultation that there is now a risk of accidents occurring and from that experience based quantification, corrective action can be taken.

This information could easily be missed through a top down approach to safety management.

What are the positives?

Bottom up safety management ensures greater collaboration, where the people most affected by changes are actively engaged in the process of decision making and have their recommendations relied upon. Workers are more compelled to comply with any changes or new processes put in place because they were consulted. Staff are kept engaged at work and understand that their opinions are valued.

When workers are under pressure to perform and they do not have the opportunity to have their voices heard, they will often develop their own solutions to the problems or challenges they face.

Sometimes these solutions can create bigger problems. For example, on a construction site that had an issue with tool scarcity, one workers brought his own power tool from home. It helped his immediate situation, but what if an accident occurred with that power tool? How could the company manage the risk of faulty equipment when they had no visibility over what tools were being used and where they came from?  

Bottom up safety management stops these band aid solutions from occurring and breaks down the barriers between workers and upper management, creating more visibility and transparency in the business.

What are the difficulties?

Bottom up safety management is perfect in theory but can be difficult in practise.  It requires a certain set of circumstances to work:

  • It must be endorsed by the top. If the CEO doesn’t make safety a priority, other priorities that often conflict with safety, such as productivity, speed to market or revenue targets, will take precedence over safety.  And if the CEO is seen not to care, this attitude flows down.
  • Senior and middle management must be open to receiving suggestions and feedback from workers on the ground. They must be adept in active listening and not take criticism personally.
  • Workers need to care about their own safety. While this seems obvious, it is alarming how many workers feel that safety protocols are just ‘red tape’ that slow them down, and often forget that protocols are there to keep them out of harm.

Our recommendations:

  • Workers should be encouraged to form health and safety committees that are championed by one of their own.
  • Workers should be asked open questions to determine the challenges they face, such as “When is your job most difficult?” and “What do you depend on to do your job well?” These open questions prompt more robust and meaningful replies.
  • Management should demonstrate to workers that their feedback is being taken on board by clear communication and updates. If changes are made to processes or new processes are put in place, management should explain the thinking behind it and the anecdotal evidence used to inform the decisions.

Bottom up safety management is a great way to create a strong culture of safety, collaboration and respect. Improve engagement, strengthen compliance and utilise the knowledge and expertise at all levels of your business.

For a secure, comprehensive and easy way to capture the information needed for a strong bottom up approach to safety management, check out Vault’s mobile apps.  It’s health and safety in the pocket of every worker, giving them a formal way of communicating information in real time while on the job.


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