Over the past 22 years, I’ve dealt with organisations of all sizes in many sectors and have seen a variety of approaches to health and safety management. What is consistently true is that no matter how developed an organisation’s systems may be, there is always scope for improvement.
As all businesses know, those who don’t change and adapt, die. It’s no different when it comes to health and safety. Since health and safety management is an integral part of general business management, it follows that health and safety management systems need to develop and change in line with other areas of business risk. Doing so will help ensure the continued success of the business as a whole.
Why is it, then, that health and safety management is seen by some as a ‘silo’, left solely to the health and safety practitioner who works in isolation without significant input from management?
The Solo Silo
This silo mentality ignores the fact that effective management of safety is an essential part of an organisation’s wider risk management strategy and can add real value to any organisation. In my opinion, those who take a silo approach are missing a trick, preferring instead to be reactive, with Management’s attention only being grabbed when something goes wrong and the loss has already been incurred.
One might say that businesses sit somewhere on a spectrum, depending on whether they are just starting out on the road to legal compliance, or, at the other end, are managing in a highly effective and integrated way.
The ‘silo’ businesses are at the lower end of this spectrum. They manage safety in a rather unstructured, instinctive way. They may have an aspiration to achieve legal compliance but may not know how. Perhaps they feel a little overwhelmed by the perception that safety management is ‘difficult’ or ‘complicated’. This need not be the case – a little professional advice and some training can help to demystify safety management and give the business the confidence to develop and improve.
Businesses that are not complying with the relatively low legal standard for health and safety are prone to enforcement action and increased costs associated with accidents and consequent losses. They may consider safety in a reactive way, taking action only after an incident has occurred instead of being more proactive and working to prevent the incident. Concerns about being fined may motivate them to some extent, but they will need support and guidance. They may have a part-time consultant, or they may have nominated someone from within their ranks to ‘do’ health and safety alongside other duties. Staff may be given health and safety training on an ‘as and when’ basis, with no real co-ordinated approach being taken. Leaders within such businesses will have much on their minds so may not give health and safety the focus it needs – until something goes wrong, that is.
At the other end of the spectrum are those businesses that manage safety and health in a much more sophisticated and effective way. Here are some of the hallmarks of such businesses:
There is a recognition that there is real value to be had from embracing sound principles of safety risk management, thereby reducing loss and establishing a better reputation.
The business will be pragmatic and business-focused, with a culture that drives innovation and will not settle for the status quo.
Safety and health management is clearly linked to return on investment and to commercial indicators such as cost savings and new revenue streams.
The organisation’s risk profile drives focus on major risks; it is confident enough to disregard trivial risks.
Occupational health and safety governance is integrated within a broader governance framework. The Board of Directors considers all types of risk and determines what it is able to do about them. The Board provides the resources for effectively managing all risks.
The safety team is viewed as being an enabling function that adds real value. The employer recognises and accepts its responsibility for ensuring that workers and others are kept reasonably safe and well and enlists the help of a competent advisor. The safety advisor supports, mentors and guides the organisation.
Occupational health and safety practice is not confined to the organisation but is allowed to extend through the supply chain, thereby helping other organisations to up their game, creating safer and healthier working environments for all. The organisation that starts this process is then seen as a leader.
Leaders take a visibly active role, engaging with the workforce and showing clear leadership and commitment that is both credible and impactful.
So where does your business sit on this spectrum? Is it managing safety in an organic and unstructured way, or has it achieved legal compliance and is aiming for a more sophisticated approach?
Moving towards a ‘beyond compliance’ approach where the management of health and safety is truly integrated with all aspects of business management takes time and effort. Having set in place an effective system, businesses of all types will see the benefits in terms of greater efficiency, reduced costs, better morale, higher productivity and consequent improvements on the bottom line. So now it’s over to you – consider your next steps, and enjoy your journey!
We can support your business by advising on your next steps and helping you to deliver a training programme for your entire team from senior management level right the way down to the shop floor. A great place to start is the ‘IOSH Leading Safely‘ course for your senior leaders. ‘Leading Safely’ is just 4 hours long but is packed with helpful insights that will really help set you off on the right path and give your business the confidence to build on what it already has in place. IOSH ‘Managing Safely’ complements Leading Safely and is a great course for your middle managers and supervisors. So why not give us a call to discuss? We’ll be happy to see what we can do to help.