When should I blow the whistle and how do I do it?

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What do you do if you witness wrongdoing at work? Elizabeth Gardiner offers tips on when and how to blow the whistle.

Wrongdoing in the construction industry has the potential to cause serious harm.
It is common for staff to see misconduct in some form, yet in many cases they are too afraid to speak up or are ignored.

The importance of being able to safely blow the whistle within the industry may seem obvious: risks of financial wrongdoing or health and safety can affect employers, workers and the wider public. Yet, construction lags behind other industries, with too few companies introducing internal whistleblowing arrangements and employees having to turn to more complex mechanisms.

The Building Safety Act will introduce a new Building Safety Regulator (BSR) to oversee fire and structural concerns in high-rise buildings. Some have expressed fear that the BSR may contribute to the complexity of existing arrangements.

“Don’t investigate concerns yourself: it is not the role of the whistleblower to investigate what you have witnessed – just report it as soon as possible.”

It is true that there are already over 90 bodies on the government’s ‘prescribed persons’ list of regulators. Knowing which to go to can be confusing. Protect can advise whistleblowers who are unsure where to raise their concerns externally.

But the first step should be to have an accessible internal whistleblowing policy, with clear routes for workers to raise concerns. Employers may want to include contractors and consultants in their policies: they may be the first to identify risks or wrongdoing. 

Some initial tips on raising a whistleblowing concern:

  • Consult your company’s whistleblowing policy (if there is one): this will detail the steps to be taken and ideally provide further assurances to how you will be protected.
  • Get advice: if you are unsure whether or how to raise your concern, contact Protect’s free advice line or visit the website.
  • Don’t investigate concerns yourself: it is not the role of the whistleblower to investigate what you have witnessed – just report it as soon as possible.
  • Keep a record: keeping a diary of what you witnessed and when you reported it can be useful, especially where you fear you may be victimised for raising the concern.

Employers should welcome staff raising concerns: whistleblowing is good for business, as workers are raising concerns that the organisation may not be aware of, allowing it to investigate and take action to prevent disaster and damage.

Staff need to feel comfortable speaking up, confident that their concern will be listened to, and that they will be supported throughout. One of the main reasons people don’t speak up is the fear of victimisation.

Top tips for organisations include:

  • Lead from the top: senior management must send a strong message that they want people to come forward with concerns and those who do so will be protected.
  • Provide options for raising concerns and access to independent advice: make it as easy as possible for people to raise concerns. Include internal and external options in your policy and ensure staff know where to go for expert advice in complex situations.
  • Train your board, managers and staff: make sure managers know how to encourage and handle whistleblowers, and that staff understand the importance of raising a concern if they see wrongdoing and how to do it.
  • Promotion is key: use a variety of methods regularly to ensure staff awareness and understanding.
  • Triage effectively: investigate fully and objectively, protecting the identity of the individual. Feed back the outcomes of an investigation as much as possible.
  • Review arrangements regularly: are your staff confident in raising concerns? How do you know your arrangements are working? Enhancing your whistleblowing arrangements is a continuous journey allowing you to learn from past experiences.

Elizabeth Gardiner is chief executive for whistleblowing advice provider Protect.

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