Safety first and last: From the top down

Senior leadership should be actively involved in health and safety.
Jeff Thorne
May 16, 2019
By Jeff Thorne
I think we can all agree that senior leadership involvement in health and safety is critical when it comes to achieving desired health and safety results, however, in the illustrious words of Noam Chomsky, “People don’t know what they don’t know.” When senior leadership – directors, managers and supervisors (yes, supervisors) – is not well informed of the state of health and safety or the communication network within an organization it becomes more reactive than proactive.
This goes right down to document generation: how it flows and who it flows to. Here are some ways senior leadership and management can demonstrate leadership on preventing health and safety risks at the workplace.

Get more involved. All levels of leadership can participant in inspections, communicate health and safety status updates and ensure that safety communication channels are established and functioning. When managers are actively involved they gain credibility and respect and it promotes buy-in. This also reinforces that safety is something that is truly valued.

Manage hazards and controls effectively. Treat near-misses and hazard reports with the same level of attention as incidents and keep workers in the communication loop. When hazards are raised to management the individual that raised the concern should be aware of the resolution and action plan. Management should be actively following up with the individual to ensure the implemented controls are adequate. Management engagement leads to open communication. Focus on controls as a key component of the risk-management process. When there is a focus on managing controls and not solely on managing risk, workers gain a further appreciation of the process.

Work directly with employees. The two-way process of involving workers and gaining their constructive engagement is important to the success of management health and safety initiatives. Involve workers in the decision-making process when it comes to identifying and controlling workplace hazards. Worker participation helps to establish a culture of communication and dialogue. Management should encourage active health and safety involvement on a daily basis. Sometimes asking a simple question of a worker or involving them in the right forum is all it takes to improve communication and obtain adequate solutions. Senior leadership needs to encourage upward communication and ensure that workers are listened to and what they bring forward is acted upon. This collaborative process helps to improve the employer/employee relationship, basing it on trust and joint problem-solving.

Provide resources and support. Too often, we don’t allow adequate time and resources to ensure that safety goals can be met. Organizational resources are needed for planning, implementing, reviewing and improving safety performance. This includes adequate support for and promotion of the Joint Health and Safety Committee. Management support for the JHSC can demonstrate that safety is part of how business is conducted and not an afterthought.

Monitor and review the safety system. It’s hard to tell if something is working if there is not a way to continuously measure and evaluate it. An organization’s safety system should have a process for reporting health and safety failures to senior leadership, but also needs to identify the timeliness of management’s response to such failures and what actions need to be taken. The tale of the tape, the success of your system, may be measured through regular audits of the effectiveness of your controls. These audits also allow you to assess the impact of changes, such as the introduction of new work processes, procedures or products, and collect worker feedback on the effect on your safety culture.

Senior leadership involvement in and knowledge of health and safety and the system that manages it are vital to the success of any organization.


Jeff Thorne is manager of training at Occupational Safety Group.

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