Going from a single to a multi-office operation isn’t a simple matter of addition and you may need to transform the way you operate. Growth is generally recognised as a sign of business’ success. However, expansion can also come with its own challenges, when managing multiple locations. Failure to prepare your business’s systems and communication strategies for geographic expansion can compromise efficiency, performance and your health and safety legal responsibilities.

1. Responsibilities

With expansion comes greater responsibility. As turnover increases so too does the level of fine you would receive in the event of prosecution for a health and safety breach. It is important for the board of directors to remember that you can’t absolve yourself of responsibility through delegation. Although health and safety functions can be delegated, legal responsibility for ensuring the health and safety of workers and for reducing risks to others affected by work activities (including members of the public) rests on employers (sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974). Consequently, you need to find a way to manage safety across multiple warehouse sites.

2. Communication and consistency  

Communication and consistency between sites and to head office is key. Often an area manager takes on this role by visiting the sites. But does he or she have sufficient knowledge or experience to check the physical risk control measures are in place? It is easy to underestimate the extra time, money and travel that managers need to invest to achieve unison in safety standards across an organisation and to tend to the unique needs of each location. Appointing external safety consultants to cover all sites on a six-monthly audit basis can provide a cost-effective and reassuring way to ensure standards remain consistent.

3. Engaging the team

Unconscious bias can creep in where head office may not give the same weight to the concerns of outlying offices or give their employees the same opportunities. Likewise, disengagement is a key issue when managing across multiple locations. Try to keep in regular contact via phone, Skype, email or even better, face-face meetings such as a monthly committee meeting, with health and safety as a critical agenda item.  

4. Managing budgets

Budgets for safety need to be allocated fairly across different branches. A larger branch with more staff and more complex loading, unloading, handling or racking may require a greater budget. Priority should also be given to matters deemed by a competent person as being higher risk.  

5. Managing performance

When employees are less visible, supervision can be tricky. Trust is key, but you also need to express clear expectations and goals and get to know people in order to manage performance effectively.

6. Cohesive approach

Ensuring cohesion of vision across locations takes constant attention, even in small enterprises. Foster a sense of cohesion through business meetings at a different site each time or bringing teams together for a joint training program.

7. Safety culture

Building and maintaining a positive safety culture across multiple sites is a challenge. All branches need to work to the same risk assessments and policies, provide necessary safety training for staff and ensure managers lead by example to breed a positive culture from the top down. It is important to appoint someone at each site to take ownership of day to day responsibility for safety. Someone to enforce the rules and lead by example and who also may ensure new starters receive the correct inductions, day to day safe working practices are followed and out of the ordinary events like accidents are investigated and managed. 

8. Cloud-based health and safety software to the rescue

As your business expands, paper-based systems and multiple spreadsheets to manage health and safety can breed a variety of problems that impact on the business’ level of compliance. Information recorded on paper can be inconsistent, mislaid or filed late; multiple systems mean it’s impossible to access a single and instant overview of compliance, and it can be challenging to complete and record audits and assessments across multiple branch sites.

Cloud-based health and safety management software such as Safety Cloud helps everyone to take the same approach, every time by ensuring the same processes are used to collect information in the same way. This will give you a consistent set of data across departments, sites, and countries and result in fewer errors and gaps in compliance.

For business owners, cloud-based safety software provides a detailed due diligence trail offering peace of mind, while reliable data served up in easy-to-access formats allows trends to be pinpointed and KPI’s to be hit. Highlighting any areas that need addressing and guiding future health and safety investment and planning. 

Unlike traditional IT systems, cloud-based software is very scalable and affordable. There are no large upfront hardware or licensing costs. Instead, you pay a subscription based on the number of users, and you’ll always have access to the latest version of the software. As your business grows, your cloud software can grow with you, just add more users as and when you need.

The most advanced cloud-based systems like Safety Cloud will take a holistic approach to health and safety management, covering accident reporting, audits, COSHH and work equipment checks, to risk and subcontractor assessments, permits to work, enforcement officer visits and workplace transport management. This eliminates the need for multiple individual systems, which all record, manage and present information differently, making it challenging to achieve an overall picture of compliance.

9. The bigger picture – acquisition and further growth

If you have multiple sites, the chances are you are expanding and will continue to expand. If you expand through acquisition, health and safety due diligence will be conducted as part of the purchase process. Often just a desk-based exercise checking systems, policies, and procedures are in place, leaving you vulnerable to physical dangers being missed, for example guarding missing on machinery or asbestos in the fabric of the building. Bringing in an independent safety consultant to conduct a physical site audit at this due diligence stage can save you emotionally and financially in the future.

Quick to implement and built around your business, Safety Cloud automates every aspect of health and safety management, with no guesswork or grey areas. Don’t you think it’s time for a modern, comprehensive approach to health and safety management across multiple warehouse sites? Book your demo session now.