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Safeguard Magazine

Comment—Appetite for risk

Simply presenting your board with a monthly H&S report is unlikely to effectively engage them. ERICA MILES suggests some ideas, including engaging officers in a risk appetite review.

I’m feeling encouraged. As officers become increasingly aware of health and safety far fewer of them are still asking questions like “Am I an officer?” or “Do I now need to go on-site?”

The push that many needed was the introduction in the HSW Act 2015 of the personal obligations owed by officers to meet their duty of due diligence. However, while I’m seeing officers maturing in their approach to health and safety governance, some of them need to appreciate there is more to health and safety than reviewing a performance report.

As health and safety professionals, what role do we have in this? What should we give our officers beyond simply supplying them with a regular performance report and an occasional personal presentation? As the saying goes, “tell me and I’ll forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll learn.” Our task as health and safety professionals, then, is to get our officers more involved, more engaged and more curious.


Providing officers with training on the basics of health and safety legislation helps them address the first “reasonable step” in due diligence. A working knowledge of the HSW Act and its regulations should be a core competency of all officers, but there is room for improvement here. A good way to do this relates to the second reasonable step, which is to understand the risks.

To do this, and in an effort to improve visible felt leadership, many organisations now require officers to carry out site visits or “safety conversations”. This is helpful. Many board members, who are often physically removed from the organisation, are now positively engaging with workers on health and safety matters.

Despite this, however, I believe many health and safety managers are frustrated with the variable quality of these interactions and their outcomes. Alternative ideas I’ve seen work include having officers attend H&S committee meetings and annual system review meetings or, at a more strategic level, inviting them to participate in internal and external independent reviews.

That said, one of the most productive ways I’ve observed to raise officers’ understanding of health and safety is to get them to take part in risk appetite reviews. These are typically scenario-based and are designed to test whether an officer is comfortable with the level of control around a risk or risks. One outcome is a greater understanding of – and perhaps confirmation of – what the organisation believes is “reasonably practicable”. When officers are actively involved in these reviews, demonstrable improvement occurs; not just in general health and safety but also, at a practical level, in how risks are controlled.


Another “reasonable step” relates to information, which typically requires review of a health and safety performance report and, crucially, a response to it. Although I’ve seen worthy efforts to improve the quality of board reports, many of them still capture neither the human dimension nor address the real needs of the board.

It’s vital to understand what the board wants reported, what it sees as priorities, and how these link to the wider business picture. I am wary of reports that dwell too much on lag indicators, having up front what happened last month, while omitting vital details on what lies ahead and, importantly, the decisions the board needs to make.

The best reports stick to the essential information the board wants, are forward-focused, and maintain their eyes on the prize: workers getting home healthy and safe. Asking for guidance from the chief executive on what really matters to the board, as well as the desired style, structure and length for the report, is an eminently reasonable request.

An interesting exercise is to compare board minutes with performance reports. I’ve seen health and safety reports number tens of pages, with the board minutes only restating the number of incidents, and noting that “the system is developing”. With this evidence, it’s difficult to ascertain how the board responded, and what decisions the board actually made. A useful tip is to clearly identify the decisions the board needs to make and, importantly, providing space to record their response.

For the most part, officers are on an upward and constructive path. As health and safety professionals, we have the important job of keeping our officers involved. An involved officer is a “learned officer”, just the kind we want sitting around our boardroom tables, walking along the assembly line, and chatting over the bonnet of a ute.

Our challenge is to help officers continue to pick up the pace, get to the destination and, above all else, stay encouraged.

Erica Miles is the director of KPMG’s health & safety advisory practice.

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