Unless you are naturally well organised or meticulous from the start, becoming process focused is key to creating a low stress working environment. I am increasingly being asked by growing companies to help them organise their processes. It’s not that they want external accreditation or that they don’t know what they are doing or how best to do it, but new staff working in a different way, conflict with a customer or supplier or demands for copies of policies that they never imagined they’d need suddenly start eating into their time and making life very stressful.

Getting organised and having a framework is crucial to reducing stress. An efficient, working system is important in order to survive in the current economic climate. Using any of the well-known quality standards or models, whether it’s ISO9000, Business Excellence Model or another business model, will provide structure to the processes. They have been developed and refined over years, if not decades, through practical application by organisations both large and small.

Starting with the business plan and using it to set targets – financial, sales, people, markets, growth and then building the processes to support those targets helps to identify what is important to the business and the direction that you want to take it. Using the standards or models as the framework raises questions that may change your view on how you deal with certain aspects of the business, or strengthen areas that are currently weak. ISO9004 (the guidance document to IS09001) suggests both active and passive ways of collecting customers’ satisfaction information to improve performance, such as customer surveys, product feedback, contract requirements, market needs, service delivery data, competitor analysis. The Business Excellence Model suggests looking at non-financial as well as financial outcomes for measuring performance, such as market share, time to market, volume and success rates.

Not everything is relevant to every business and most companies are doing some of these things but in an ad hoc way. You don’t need to be preparing for formal assessment to apply the principles of quality systems. The point is, they make you step outside your working world and look at ways to improve your efficiency. Getting there might be a painful time but at the end of the day it should create a less stressful environment, where people understand how the company works and everyone is pulling in the same direction. And, as the company grows, all that hard work could be channelled into achieving formal recognition to ISO9000; an incredibly powerful marketing tool!

It’s that time of year again…… Work Experience. Whilst work experience can be an exciting time for young people, it is also a time where they can face hazards and risks in unfamiliar surroundings. Since employers hold the same health, safety and welfare responsibilities for work experience students as they do for their entire workforce, it is vital that you are fully prepared.

Employers have a legal duty to pay additional attention to risk assessment when employing staff under the age of 18. Since work experience students are likely to fall into this category and, since they are likely to be inexperienced, unaware of health and safety risks and physically or mentally immature, it is vital that you look at the workplace from a young person’s viewpoint and carry out a risk assessment accordingly. By understanding that young people may not be fully-grown and could find their workplace awkward and the tools too big, you will gain a better perspective of potential risks to young people working on your premises.

To help you prepare for a safe and successful work experience placement, we suggest you follow these 10 simple steps:

  1. Meet the young person before the work placement starts. Determine whether the young person has any specific requirements.
  2. Discuss objectives and expectations.
  3. Agree suitable work tasks to give an understanding of your organisation.
  4. Prepare a risk assessment appropriate to the age and work to be done.
  5. Ensure significant risks are communicated to the school and parents if the young person is of school age.
  6. Check with your insurers that they agree to the work placement.
  7. Plan an induction programme that includes health, safety and conditions of work.
  8. Identify a supervisor and mentor.
  9. Review progress during the work placement.
  10. Provide feedback to the young person and the school and expect some in return.

Having a work experience placement is an ideal opportunity to review your current systems and remind all of your staff of the importance of health and safety practices. Of course, if you need help with any of this then you can contact us.

Pic - Man with flowchartIt is a truth universally acknowledged that two heads are better than one; a particularly pertinent truth when it comes to producing and improving your processes.  This should not be a lonely job for a fevered scribe in a darkened office.   It’s time to tap into the creativity and specific knowledge of the people who do the work – the team!

A well designed process takes account of every aspect, input and output, so it makes sense to consult all the people involved.  One of the best ways to do this is to gather all relevant people together for a facilitated brainstorming session.  Brainstorming should be an informal and creative way of generating ideas, and can also be great fun.

For any brainstorming session it’s important to set a clear objective.  When looking at processes the objective will be very clear from the outset, whether it’s to clarify an existing, but unwritten procedure; to create a new one; to solve an issue that has arisen (such as a customer complaint); to identify the root cause of a problem or to make improvements and reduce costs, etc.

It is vital that everyone feels that they have equal input and a good mix of experience and knowledge is essential. Whilst more experienced people may have a better understanding of the problem, new staff may have a different perspective or experience of a similar issue from a previous job. Senior people may seem imposing to more junior staff, but it’s important that the people who are carrying out the day-to-day work have a chance to put forward their thoughts on how to improve the procedure.

Facilitated brainstorming can highlight areas of duplication, iron out issues between different teams or departments, provide a greater understanding to staff of how the business works, identify the root cause of problems and encourage everyone’s commitment to getting it right. Ultimately it’s about improving the business and ensuring that staff have an opportunity to be involved.

A suggestion box is another good way of getting people involved. It may elicit a list of preferred biscuits for visitors, but it also creates an opportunity for less confident staff to make a suggestion that could dramatically improve the business.

This is a dynamic way to engage your team in the workings of the business. Communication is, as always, key.  It is important to show people the fruits of their labour and show them how their ideas are being implemented. Not only will they feel ownership of the process, but you will also get the best picture of what actually works.

To download our fact sheet ‘How to Draft a Flow Chart’ click here.


Everywhere we go these days we see people tapping away at their smartphone keyboard, whether sitting on the train, the bus, a car (whilst not driving of course), or even whilst walking down the street or through the shopping mall (have you seen the on-line clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPW8xmI4w6U of the American lady falling in the water fountain whilst texting)? This rapid rise in the use of smartphones, whilst enabling us to stay in contact with work, friends and family, has been accompanied by a relatively new type of repetitive stress injury (RSI) termed “BlackBerry Thumb”.

Many users of popular wireless devices such as the BlackBerry type much faster by ‘pecking’ out messages with their thumbs rather than their more dexterous fingers. Many people soon learn to type in excess of 40 words a minute! “Whatever your thumb-typing speed, lots of messages mean lots of repetitive thumb motions. And that could mean trouble,” says Alan Hedge, PhD, director of the human factors and ergonomics research group at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

The muscles and tendons of the thumb are very strong, but they are not designed for the type of intense activity associated with today’s handheld devices. BlackBerry Thumb refers to the discomfort felt in the thumb, following prolonged use of a BlackBerry mobile device, smartphone or ipod. It is an irritation of the muscles and tendons at the base of the thumb which manifests itself as pain at the base of the thumb (which may continue even when the thumb in not being used) and an ache in the web space between the thumb and index finger. Over the long term excessive use can cause tendonitis and potentially lead to premature arthritis.

Since 1992, employers have had a legal obligation to provide DSE risk assessments for their staff, but many are unaware that the use of BlackBerry and Smartphone devices should be included within the risk assessment where use is habitual. If there is a risk from repetitive use of any item of DSE then it should be risk assessed, allowing for pro-active prevention of RSI rather than reactive measures to resolve it.

Every day, six people in the UK leave their jobs due to an RSI condition, and 1 in 50 of all workers in the UK has reported an RSI condition of some sort. However, BlackBerry Thumb needn’t be an inevitable consequence of today’s fast-paced world. Simple control measures can prevent the realisation of BlackBerry Thumb, including restricting the usage of a BlackBerry to, for example, no more than 2 short emails in any one hour period. Encourage staff to do more typing on their keyboard and then to sync over to their BlackBerry rather than typing longer messages on BlackBerry itself. And, where this is not possible, consider supplying staff with a full-size wireless compact folding keyboard which are available for most handheld devices for around £60.

As BlackBerrys and Smartphones continue to become a vital tool to many employers, make sure you make your staff aware of the pitfalls.

Often, when I meet people for the first time and explain that I’m a quality and safety consultant I get a blank look when I mention quality. People understand the need for safety and that it’s a legal requirement, but very often they don’t appreciate the importance of quality management or the role it plays in business development.

Well established companies may choose to implement ISO9001 for sound business reasons – to create a structure to the way they work, to provide ground rules for staff so that everyone works in a defined method, to put a stake in the ground to determine the current methods and to identify improvement opportunities, to obtain external certification of the process, and to provide a competitive edge particularly during a tendering process. These are all very good reasons for implementing a quality management system.

For small or young companies the concept and language can seem quite alien and the prospect of implementing such a system quite daunting. So what is the point for a growing company?

Q. Why ISO 9001?
A. ISO 9001 is an ideal management system standard for organisations that have a need to consistently meet demanding customer and regulatory standards. The standard is based around the principles of customer satisfaction, continual improvement and the development of a process-based quality management system.

Q. What are the benefits?
A. Although not referenced in the standard itself the ISO 9001 document is underpinned by eight key quality management principles:

  • a customer-focused organisation;
  • leadership; the involvement of people;
  • ensuring a process approach;
  • a systematic approach to management;
  • a factual approach to decision-making;
  • mutually beneficial supplier relations;
  • and continual improvement.

Q. Does the standard improve business opportunities?
A. The standard provides a level playing field in the market for large and small organisations alike. The standard also stresses the need for continual improvement to help the organisation at the cutting edge of the market. All of the requirements of ISO 9001 are in some way focused towards meeting and exceeding the customer’s expectations – for example, the requirement of management to determine and communicate the importance of customer requirements throughout the organisation, and the review of customer orders to ensure that they can be met.

Q. What if I’m not ready for ISO9001?
A. It is a recognised fact that any company, regardless of size, will benefit from having clear procedures in place. If you are E-myth fan you won’t need any convincing from me! When defining the structure for a documented system, even if the intention is to achieve ISO9001 in two, three or four years time, significant time can be saved by using the ISO9000 model as the structure for your system.

At Stepping Stones for Business we help small companies define their processes and help them to create structure on the road to ISO9001. For larger companies with mature systems in place, we help them to achieve ISO9001 and work with them to maintain the standard. If you would like more information please contact us.

As the workforce becomes more mobile and technology improves, the use of laptop computers is increasing. They provide great flexibility but they also carry greater risks than a static workstation. Their increased use means that employers are far more dependant on users being sensible in how they use them outside the workplace and also how they manage security.

Using a laptop can cause musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) because they are not easy to use in the correct posture (as you would at a conventional workstation). There is a higher risk of neck and eye problems, because of the angle of the screen; hand and wrist problems because of the angle of the keyboard; and shoulder and back problems due to inappropriate posture during use, or the weight of the laptop when being carried.

As with a normal workstation, you should:

  • Adopt a good posture
    • Raise the screen to the height that you would use for a static workstation
    • Use a separate keyboard and mouse so that wrists are in a neutral position
  • Sit in a chair that provides good back support and align the keyboard to your body (“b” key should be in line with your belly button) – don’t twist to use the laptop.
  • Make sure the screen is adjusted properly to avoid glare and so that you do not have to stretch your neck to see it properly.
  • Take regular breaks from continuous work.
  • Rest your eyes by looking at objects at different distances (e.g. look out of the window).  Try and remember to blink to avoid dry eyes.
  • Make sure that the laptop is supported properly when working so it can’t move or slide as you work.

On the move:

If you have to carry your laptop with you, you should regularly consider:

  • The weight of the laptop – try and buy as low a weight as possible, ideally with removable drives and with a long battery life so you can avoid carrying transformers and cables too.
  • How to transport it – only carry a laptop and bag on one shoulder for short periods. A laptop rucksack or trolley is far better for your back.
  • Security – laptops are desirable objects:
    • Disguise your laptop, if you can, in a non-laptop looking bag.
    • Be extra vigilant if you are walking around in a higher risk area.
    • Don’t leave your laptop in a car.

Other safety issues

  • If you use your laptop connected to the mains, make sure the cables are not trailing across the floor in the path of other people around you.
  • Don’t walk around with the laptop open.
  • Don’t rest your laptop on your lap for any length of time:
    • It is not good ergonomically
    • it can get very hot!

So do they love you?  And how do you know?  Quite simply there’s really only one way to find out – ask them!  Good communication with your customers is one of the most important tools in understanding and developing your business.  It starts with asking what they want in the first place, and then checking to see if you succeeded.  Asking them how you could have done it better continues the cycle.

Not only is this an obvious way to ensure that you provide what the market wants, it also forms the basis of continuous improvement of your business.  In a competitive market it literally pays to perform better than everyone else and an effective way to find out how you are doing is to ask the people who know best – your customers.

How you go about this rather depends on what you are selling and to whom.  A short and well thought out questionnaire is probably best if you have vast quantities of customers.  Create a questionnaire that is easy and painless to complete and return, and maybe even offer an incentive to do so.  A brief Internet search will reveal companies who provide online questionnaire services.

If you have fewer clients to whom you provide a more specialised service, you might prefer to question them in person.  Schedule a chat or a meeting and build in some searching questions about their experience with you.  Ask them what they love about your service and what you can do better.  Engage them in a conversation that is all about them and their needs. It’s important though to record the findings.

Whatever form your customer survey takes, the key is to listen to the answers.  Record all the information and determine what it means to your business.  Act on your findings to create real, targeted improvements. Then, when you next ask them how you are doing, you can measure the success of your actions.

Continuous improvement is an essential element of ISO9000, but measuring customer satisfaction is important, regardless of whether you have ISO9000 or not.  In simple terms it means listen to your customers, give them what they want through follow-up, through the appropriate means suitable for your business and customers, and record and measure the results.

To find out more about Customer Satisfaction Surveys click here for our factsheet, or email us for a copy of our factsheet.

The Met Office reported that November’s snowfall was the earliest widespread fall of snow in the UK since 1993. Following the chaos caused by last winter’s snowfalls it doesn’t bode well for the coming months. Health and safety once more became the excuse for virtually every decision and a lot of misinformation was perpetuated. As a result, a lot of good information is now available to help people manage their responsibilities. Here are some FAQs:

Is it true that I can be sued if I clear the snow from outside my premises and someone falls?

There is no law stopping you from clearing snow and ice from the pavements outside your home or from public spaces. The important thing is to do it carefully, and to remember that people walking on snow and ice have a responsibility to be careful too. The government have published a snow code, the details of which can be found at http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Nl1/Newsroom/DG_191868. The main points to note are:

  • Clear the snow or ice early in the day
  • Use salt or sand – not hot water
  • Pay extra attention to steps or steep pathways
  • Take care where you are moving the snow to
  • Offer to clear your neighbours’ path if they are elderly or disabled

What do I need to do if I have to drive in snowy conditions?

Driving in severe winter weather can be challenging. If you drive for work, even if it’s your own car, you have a responsibility to ensure that it is safe to drive and it’s worth keeping on top of things routinely.

Before you leave:

  • Tyres – make sure they are inflated correctly and that you have a minimum of 3 mm tread
  • Battery – it will run down quicker than in warmer weather, so make sure you do regular long journeys to top it up, or put it on trickle-charge
  • Engine – even with modern cars, depress the clutch when starting to reduce the drag on the engine and help preserve the battery
  • Screen wash – keep the screen wash topped-up and use a recommended concentrate to prevent it from freezing
  • Fuel – keep your tank topped up. If you get stuck in snow and need to keep the engine ticking over to keep warm, make sure that snow isn’t blocking the exhaust, as noxious fumes can leak into the vehicle
  • Windows – clear all snow and ice from the windscreen, lights and number plate before driving. Do not use hot water as it could crack the glass, re-freeze or create an ice patch on the ground
  • Locks – squirt some WD-40 on the locks to prevent them freezing up
  • Emergency snow kit – pack a warm coat, hat, gloves, sturdy boots and blanket. Take some food, chocolate, biscuits, water and a hot drink if you can, and always carry a fully charged mobile, some old bits of carpet or some cat litter to put under the tyres and a shovel to clear the snow.

For more information take a look at the AA website – http://www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/seasonal/winter_motoring.html

As an employer what can I do if I think that staff are using the snow as an excuse not to come in to work?

This is where H&S and HR law overlap. From a H&S perspective you need to risk assess the situation in the same way as you would any other function. Employers have a duty of care to their employees and are potentially liable if they put pressure on their staff to travel by car or foot when conditions are dangerous. If authorities are telling people to stay at home unless their journey is essential then it is wise to look at alternative arrangements, such as working from home during the immediate emergency. As weather and transport links improve so that staff could get to work, then clear and consistent policies need to be communicated to staff. Options could be – taking a day’s leave as part of the holiday entitlement, deduction of salary or unpaid leave, and if you really feel that a member of staff is swinging the lead, then you may need to threaten disciplinary procedures.

To find out more about driving in snow, click here for our factsheet or email us.


Yes! – When did you last read your Highway Code? A quick glance at the back of the current edition shook me when I recognised the cover of the 1969 edition! No I’m not THAT old, but it does give the game away a bit, not least that I haven’t read the Highway Code for quite a while. I bought a copy because I’m currently organising a couple of driver awareness training courses for clients at the moment. Although I’m getting an expert in to present the course I thought a brush up the Highway Code beforehand would be useful.

We are now getting enquiries regularly from companies who have recognised that when staff have to travel for their work there are a significant number of health and safety factors to consider. Queries range from something as simple as the road worthiness of the car to managing time pressures and speed awareness. We’ve had questions about driving in winter conditions; security for a lone driver or how to handle the safety, legal and moral implications of a member of staff driving whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs. After all, a vehicle is a piece of work equipment and needs to be viewed in the same way as any industrial machinery – it must be suitable for the job, inspected, maintained and handled by someone with the appropriate training, knowledge and experience and who is fit to carry out the task. Even if the car is owned by the member of staff, whilst they are driving a vehicle on behalf of the company, the company has a responsibility for the safety of the individual and their effect on others.

If you feel that we can help you and your staff become better drivers through driver safety awareness training or policies then get in touch. In the meantime, here are some questions to see how much you remember of The Highway Code.


  1. If there are streetlights present what is the speed limit?
  2. What is the typical stopping distance for a car travelling at 50mph.
  3. What parts of your car must you keep clear of snow?
  4. What does this sign mean?
  5. What is the mandatory penalty for a driver who accumulates 12 points?
  6. What is a driver indicating if they have their right arm out of the window and are circling in an anti-clockwise direction?
  7. Where is it illegal to park fully or partially on a pavement?
  8. What does ATM mean?
  9. What must you do if you park on the road at night?
  10. Who is responsible for ensuring that passengers in the car are wearing seat belts?



  1. 30 miles an hour, unless otherwise stated
  2. 53 mts or 13 car lengths
  3. Windscreen; lights; number plate (Rule 229)
  4. Bumpy road ahead
  5. Driving ban of three years.
  6. Turning left
  7. Anywhere in London (Rule 244)
  8. Active Traffic Management system
  9. Park in the direction of the traffic, unless it’s an authorised parking space. And put parking lights or side lights on if the speed limit is over 30 mph.
  10. For children under 14 years of age it’s the driver. Otherwise it’s the passenger.

If I were to tell you that you could save significant time and money by implementing something very simple and inexpensive, you would be keen to read on.  If, however, I were to start talking about ‘records’ and ‘document control’, I can almost hear the collective groan!  Why is it that we all dread the thought of ‘admin’ when really all it takes is a little forethought and discipline to create a healthy saving?

Think about the last time you were in a hurry to leave the house and couldn’t find the car keys.  How long did it take to search your coat pockets, handbag, briefcase or under the settee?  Multiply that amount by how much you charge for your time and then add the potential (or actual) cost of having been late, such as losing a client.  The resulting sum is the amount of money you could have saved simply by hanging up the keys as you walked in the door.

The old adage ‘A place for everything and everything in its place’ comes to mind, whether at home or at work. I remember a few years ago visiting a company where no one had kept the software license list up-to-date. It cost the company hours in time and money to locate where computers had been moved to, what software had been installed on them, what the license numbers were and the passwords for upgrades. Had the company been going through an ISO9000 audit, a major non-conformance would have been raised. As it was, it just wasted a lot time, raised blood pressure and took hours to put it right. A simple spreadsheet at the outset and a clear procedure would have solved the problem.

If you have ever sent out a document to a client only to realise too late that it was an earlier draft – the one in which you spelt their name incorrectly all the way through – then you will know the importance of document control.  It takes seconds to upgrade a document’s issue status. Ignore it and it could be a costly business.

Then there are the implications of records such as HR files getting into the wrong hands because they weren’t stored or disposed of safely.  The Government’s missing Child Benefit data in 2007 is a case in point!

The ISO9001 quality standard provides a sound framework to improve business efficiency and performance.  Control of Records and Document Control are a fundamental part of the standard but you don’t need to have a quality standard to use the principles effectively. Click here to get a copy of our Quick Step Guide to Control of Records and Document Control.