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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

Learning Leaders

JAMES FLETCHER urges business leaders to get involved in committing to – and learning about – health and safety, for everyone’s benefit.

With pending changes to our country’s health and safety legislation that will place enhanced duties on business owners, directors and senior managers, it is timely to reflect on the important role that business leaders play in health and safety leadership.

Chief executives and boards play a critical role, as they set the tone from the top. If we demonstrate through our words and actions that health and safety is our top priority, then our workplaces will become safer. When we don’t, tragic consequences follow.

Getting personally involved is a major part of this. Being present at and contributing to toolbox talks, inductions for new staff, and occasionally “getting on the tools” brings a personal and compelling dimension to engagement with your people.

But it doesn’t stop there. Business leaders need to be engaged in the process safety conversation (how functions are performed) and have a huge influence over safety in our supply chains. We make commercial decisions every day about who we partner with. We do so on the basis of the services or products a given company or individual provides, their brand position, and the commercial value they provide to us. Why shouldn’t those criteria extend to an organisation’s health and safety commitment and the leadership their senior managers or owners display?

To achieve this, we as business leaders need to look to our own learning first. Health and safety leadership is a key component of effective leadership as much as strategy development, finance, sales or marketing. We need our leaders to shift from a compliance-driven approach where we delegate or instruct, to where we inspire our people to understand our collective duty, and ultimately to where we engage with our people to build better safety outcomes. But how do we know where we sit on that continuum?

The Business Leaders’ Health & Safety Forum, launched in 2010 and now with more than 150 CEO members, has developed a suite of world-first learning resources, starting with a specific Safety Leadership 360° assessment tool to help leaders assess where they are at and what further development they need. Within that assessment are a number of safety leadership domains addressing matters such as “clarifying the vision and focus”, “getting personally involved”, “managing risk” and “monitoring the right health and safety outcomes”, to name four of the eight.

Building on this foundation, the Forum has recently launched a programme of purpose built CEO Safety Leadership Workshops (tied to the safety leadership domains) and a CEO Safety Leadership Course. This has been achieved in conjunction with Leading Safety and the New Zealand Leadership Institute.

Armed with this type of knowledge, our board chairs, directors and chief executives need to be seen telling the story and encouraging all levels of the organisation to learn more about health and safety and the positive impact a Zero Harm culture can have, both personally and professionally. We spend a great deal of money on technology, plant and equipment and invest in regular maintenance regimes. It goes without saying that in all of our businesses we need to do the same with our people, as that is where not only strength but also our potential risk lies.

Many people look at health and safety as another compliance chore, given the growing evidential steps that are required to prove that all reasonable practicable steps have been taken to prevent harm. However this ignores the enormous benefits in employee and stakeholder engagement when led effectively. A strong commitment to health and safety does not just tick the risk management boxes, it can deliver you better staff retention and engagement, greater client commitment and significant financial returns.

For our business, promoting a Zero Harm culture has seen fantastic results over the last two and a half years. Our TRIFR has reduced by 90%, our staff engagement and understanding of health and safety obligations have increased significantly, injured employees have returned to work quicker, and our claims costs have reduced substantially.

Pursuing good health and safety practices, with a commitment from senior leadership, makes compelling business sense.

James Fletcher is managing director of facilities management business OCS Limited and a member of the Business Leaders Health & Safety Forum’s steering group and leadership subcommittee.

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