What Project Managers Must Know About Health and Safety

How to Keep Your Team Safe at Work

Portrait of worker with clipboard near silage storage towers
Portrait of worker with clipboard near silage storage towers. Martin Barraud/Caiaimage/Getty Images

Whether you are working on a building site or in an office, a project manager has a duty of care to be aware of the health and safety considerations for the team.

But what does that actually mean? Let’s look at some of the main areas of health and safety that you should be aware of as a project manager.

Training

As part of what a project manager does you would be expected to undertake the relevant training and to ensure that the team members have training too.

This starts with you understanding of the relevant legislation in your country. This could include manual handling or working with display screen equipment as well as training related to staying safe in environments deemed to generally be more risky than offices like factories or construction sites.

You’ll also need to build time into the project schedule for them to do their training. You should factor this early in the project life cycle before the team is involved in any work considered risky. They may have to complete some courses before they can join the team.

Risk Assessment

As the project manager you will also be expected to know how to undertake a risk assessment, maybe in conjunction with specialists if you need to get them involved. This is to ensure that the team has a safe place to work.

For example, you’ll ensure that electrical safety tests had been carried out on equipment and that there are safe access and egress points to the site where the project team will be working.

You’re not expected to have knowledge of how to do those checks, but you do have to know how to get hold of the right people so that the checks can be done. Think of your local expert health and safety team as any other team of specialists you’d bring into the project when you need them.

Again, this needs to happen very early in the project so that the correct steps are taken to address anything identified during the risk assessment.

Create a Safety Culture

You’ll have heard that culture starts at the top and that goes for safety too. A project manager should promote a culture of safety in the team through setting a good example, following guidelines and challenging inappropriate and unsafe behavior.

This could be through activities such as putting up posters, encouraging everyone to take safety seriously and making safety reviews and briefings a normal and expected part of what you talk about in project team meetings.

It’s important to keep up this culture of safety throughout the project.

Checking Equipment

While you might not be the right person to personally check all the equipment, you are responsible as a project manager to make sure that the team has the correct and safe equipment to use in their jobs.

You can do this through scheduling time to gather and review the requirements for equipment and ensuring that the plant or other machinery is fit for purpose.

Again, this is part of the ongoing health and safety duties of the project manager so it will be something you’ll return to again and again during the project.

Safe Systems of Work

As project manager, you will take action to ensure that safe systems of work exist for your team.

For example, that the processes involved in doing the work are safe and meet company and regulatory requirements.

You can get some input from your team too as they will no doubt have an opinion about whether they are working in ways that feel safe.

All of this can be documented in the health and safety plan, which is part of your project management plan. Most project managers are not health and safety experts and you don’t have to be. You don’t need to know the ins and outs of the law, but you do need to be aware that it’s part of your role to keep your team safe. Once you are clear on that, you can plan to bring in the experts to do their jobs and promote a culture of safety on the team.

A safe working environment is important to everyone, regardless of the type of project, equipment or processes you are working with, so plan for safety as you would plan for anything else on your project.