A few years ago, I experienced some medical symptoms that had me worried. Without going into the gory details of what those symptoms were, I did what many do – I turned to Google – I googled my symptoms and self-diagnosed. My self-diagnosis was extreme – I was toast. The very next day I contacted the doctor’s clinic and I was able to get an appointment. Relief!
Going into my appointment, all I was hoping for was a consultation with the doctor who would listen to my concerns, talk through the symptoms and provide some insight to what might be causing these symptoms. In essence, I wanted the doctor to reassure me that I was going to be ok.
When I arrived to my appointment, the doctor, without an introduction pointed at the seat instructing me to sit down. As I sat down I was confronted with the doctor asking me ‘what is wrong?’ – I was taken aback. After a few ummms and ughhhs I proceeded with telling the doctor my concerns. Not even ten words in I was interrupted by the doctor who said that my concerns were overthought and there was no need for further investigation. GULP! I left the doctor’s clinic speechless and unsettled. I wondered how a doctor could lack such empathy.
That day I wrote a letter of complaint and sent it to the doctor’s clinic. The next day I was called in and asked to meet with the GP who I had complained about. I agreed and met with her. She explained that her behaviour was unacceptable and that personal issues had distracted her attitude at work. The GP was very remorseful and informed me of her plan to improve her beside manners with patients. She asked if I would be willing to have another consultation with her – I agreed. We discussed my symptoms and family medical history and then proceeded with a few standard medical checks. Just through that consultation process I felt reassured in the doctors’ diagnosis. I agreed with her reasoning behind the symptoms I was experiencing. I left that consultation in a much better headspace. Whilst that consultation occurred six years ago, I’m reminded of the experience each time I go to the doctor.
Whilst perusing in a book store recently, I came across Dr Ranjana Srivastava’s Dying For a Chat, the communication breakdown between doctors and patients. It reminded me of my experience I had with the GP. I was fascinated to understand why this is such a common issue in the medical profession. The book explores why good communication skills should be considered as important to healthcare as medical breakthroughs. Dr Srivastava explains that one of the primary drivers for dissatisfaction with healthcare is poor communication between doctors and patients. Reading this book, the message really resonated – consultation is just as vital to ensure health and safety of workers and others in the workplace. This is a message not only to those in the medical profession, but to all leaders in all sectors. A lack of effective consultation between leaders and workers in the workplace can lead to a poor health and safety culture and negative outcomes.
Dr Srivastava suggests; when doctors communicate well, the consultation becomes more patient-centred, taking in a broader view of the patient’s needs. Surprisingly, consultation time is often no greater, proving that if doctors interrupt less and ask open questions, the patient is more able to help in the diagnostic task. This can be compared to health and safety in the workplace. Consulting with your workers can assist in diagnosing the risks that they and others may be exposed to.
Regular engagement and consultation with your workers can uncover operational risks that may not be so obvious to those in the executive seats. The objective of consultation in the workplace is the same as in a doctor-patient relationship; to keep people (workers) healthy and safe.
Dr Srivastava makes an impressionable statement in her book – “Of all interventions that will make future medicine sustainable, accountable and reflective of the wishes of society, it is the ability for doctors and patients to be truly involved in shared decision-making.” I believe this holds true for the health and safety success in a business. Leaders must know how to talk to their workers and should make a habit of it.
Consultation between leaders and workers is a must-have not a nice-to-have. Consultation with workers and others that you share a duty with is a legal requirement under work health and safety law. It is an essential part of managing health and safety risks. A safe workplace is more easily achieved when everyone involved the work communicates with each other to identify hazards and risks, talks about any health and safety concerns and works together to find solutions. This includes cooperation between the people who manage or control the workplace and those who carry out the work or who are affected by the work.
The key to effective consultation
Your workers are more likely to engage in consultation when their knowledge and ideas are actively sought and any concerns about health and safety are taken seriously.
Where you share a duty with another duty holder in respect to your workers, you must have systems in place to ensure that consultation, co-operation and co-ordinator of health and safety activities occur. In a recent case Boland v Trainee and Apprectice Placement Service Inc , Trainee and Apprentice Placement Services Inc, a not-for-profit (NFP) organisation was prosecuted for failing their duty under section 46 of the WHS Act to consult with other duty holders.
The prosecution followed an incident involving a roofer who was placed with a roofing contractor by Trainee and Apprentice Placement Service. The roofer sustained severe injuries when some guttering came into contact with high-voltage powerlines.
Regularly consulting with your workforce and other parties responsible is simple and effective. It’s the key to cultivating a healthy and safe workplace. A chat with your workforce regarding potential risks of a task can prevent a serious injury or fatality.
How do you rate health and safety consultation in your workplace?
If you think consultation in your workplace could be done better, consider the following consultation challenge. This challenge is a concept adapted from the Schwartz Rounds™.
- Schedule a day in each month for the next three months to hold a consultation session with your workforce
- Identify some though-provoking topics to base the consultation sessions on
- Identify a panel of presenters (internal and external) who can provide insight on the topic and arrange a brief presentation from these presenters at the consultation session.
- Allocate time in the consultation session for your workforce to share their experiences, thoughts and feelings
- Consider where improvements can be made – where risk can be reduced
- Implement strategies that have been agreed upon
- Reflect on the outcomes at the end of the three-month challenge
- Share the wins with your workforce
Amy Towers, Founder and Director of Risk Collective
Amy Towers is obsessed with setting you free when it comes to your work health and safety obligations. A risk expert with more than 10 years’ experience working as a Health and Safety Specialist and Consultant, Amy enjoys solving complex business problems and is truly passionate about guiding, directing and protecting you and your business against health and safety risks.