Facilities Managers are used to dealing with change, but having to wade through both existing and emerging health and safety requirements and standards while managing a full portfolio of property and services can be time consuming and sometimes frustrating. Most, if not all, facilities managers rarely find time in a working week to interrogate in sufficient detail these kinds of ‘additional requirements’, and to select what is relevant and what can be discarded.

The key to handling the growing volume of regulations and statutory requirements surely lies in creating effective underlying processes and procedures. But getting the balance right can be a delicate matter. Facilities managers are often tasked with working through what can seem a daunting range of compliance issues, seeking to identifying duty holders and to produce accurate and understandable end user guidance. But at the same time, it is essential to avoid setting up internal processes, which are bureaucratic and unnecessarily complicated to operate in the longer term. For if the potential opportunities and benefits created by effective health and safety management are to be realised, solutions that are simple, effective and fit for purpose are essential. More than this, most facilities managers recognise that the real challenge in this area – as elsewhere in FM - is to find ways of adding value within the constraints of the finite resources available to them.

Of course, effective health and safety management is not about forcing compliance. The knock on effects of regulations and guidelines will almost certainly impact on agreed service standards and contract requirements, which will make it necessary review and potentially re-negotiate these with end-user clients.

An essential starting point in the process is to understand who the stakeholders really are, and how their needs and expectations are likely to be affected. The consumers of any new guidance produced will almost certainly expect an integrated system that sits comfortably alongside existing procedures, and one that they can actively contribute to developing. Involving end users in producing a working solution, and creating a shared understanding of overall objectives, is the best way of avoiding potential problems, not least systems of work that are either impractical or overly onerous. The key to the successful introduction of health and safety in FM is to give those most affected by it joint ownership in its success.

When producing new management guidance, the ability to know and understand your target audience is most of the battle. Compliance is far more likely to follow, if consultation has taken place first. The fact that specific legislation on consultation with employees exists – the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 were brought in to stimulate a two way flow of health and safety information and to move away from management prescription - illustrates the trend towards a more collaborative approach, and a move away from a confrontational culture in this area. The aim is to provide a forum for the development of new systems of work that fully integrate health and safety requirements through open communication and co-operation between all affected by the changes.

The concept of stakeholder involvement is by no means revolutionary for facilities managers, but the process can produce surprisingly positive results. With a little thought and creativity, integrating health and safety effectively into FM can be a pain free process. It is easy to overlook, for example, just how much existing processes and controls can contribute. Personnel absence records are useful for identifying trends in ill health just as accident records can help to establish local priorities for maintenance and modification to building, plant and services, as well as areas to focus on when conducting risk assessments. An independent eye is more likely to spot the overlaps and opportunities and FM practitioners cannot go far wrong by using the services of somebody who can facilitate the successful development of new systems with minimal impact on existing resource levels.

Off the shelf solutions, although useful, are unlikely to reflect the particular needs and circumstances of your FM operational portfolio. Each site and each contract will have its own peculiarities and priorities that will dictate how you approach health and safety compliance. It is vital to focus on these differences to provide solutions that are relevant, integrated into the operational programmes and, above all, to foster both Boardroom and front line support for health and safety compliance.

This collaborative approach is successfully in use across the Offshore Oil and Gas industry in the UK through an industry led initiative named ‘Step Change in Safety’. It’s objectives focus on a desire to deliver a 50% improvement in safety performance by actively involving employees and through the exchange of ideas, not simply within organisations, but also between them. Provisional HSE safety statistics for the 12 months to June 2000 show a 24% improvement on those for 1997 by use of this positive and proactive approach since its inception in September 1997 at the Offshore Europe conference. However, these achievements are only part of the story. The last three years have also been an important learning process that have developed a better understanding of:

· the difficulties of communicating effectively
· what is required to make management commitment meaningful and convincing
· the behavioural issues that affect relationships and meaningful engagement

This is clear evidence of the success that can be achievable in managing health and safety in the workplace and, although it is unlikely that Facilities Managers will find themselves facing the same level of risk it proves that open communication can be a simple, yet effective tool.

Reno Fanucci is Managing Director of Omega Management (Consulting) Ltd and can be contacted on r.fanucci@ntlworld.com , Tel; 07775-940354