How a Company Can Achieve an Effective Management Commitment to Its Health and Safety Programs

The most critical factor that separates high performance companies from the rest of the pack is the effective involvement and commitment of management to achieving the organization’s pursuits. This is true for every goal a company sets, be it in marketing, operations, human resources, health & safety, supply chain, etc. But why is this so? The simple answer is that nothing happens without the leadership and direction from the managers. By virtue of their position in the organization, management has the greatest power to influence situations in the workplace.

Who is management? In this context, the management of a company consists of the individuals who occupy the senior manager(s), middle managers and supervisory positions. They are also called “leaders”. These are the people who determine the company’s goals and priorities. They instruct, direct and control the workers in the performance of their duties. Given this fact, whenever you hear or see a company struggling in any aspects of its deliverables, the problem dial should be pointing towards lack of management involvement and commitment in that area.

In the aspect of occupational health and safety performance of a company, studies using root cause analysis and management system audit tools have most often arrived at leadership deficiencies as the cause of myriads of the organizational problems leading to injuries and damage to company’s properties. How successful companies are ensuring management involvement and commitment in this area is the key message from this article.

There are four main ways to achieve and demonstrate management involvement and commitment follows:

Health and Safety Policy

Safety, just like quality, reliability, integrity, trust and respect for people, has increasingly been finding its way into companies’ mission and vision statements as one of the key values that companies promote. By human nature, not everyone in a company will buy into the organization’s value system. What this means is that some people in a company will not believe in safety and so for any organization to succeed in achieving its safety aims and goals, it has to adopt some form of governing rules which lay out the conditions members have to meet in order to be part of the organization. This explains why a company has to have a health and safety policy.

The Health and Safety policy states an employer’s principles and commitments to ensuring a safe and healthy workplace. It is a means by which the management conveys its belief in preventing harm to its people, damage to its asset and to the environment. (i.e. if the company runs an integrated health, safety and environment management system or program). It calls for every stakeholder to play according to the philosophy and standards which the company has set and that everyone will be held accountable by these standards. Stakeholders in this context refer to senior manager(s), managers, supervisors, workers, contractors, suppliers and visitors.

What are the qualities of a good health and safety policy? Being a directive document, the policy has to be written, signed and dated by the current most senior member of management. It has to be read and reviewed by every stakeholder, be posted and available for constant reference by all.

In terms of content, the policy will achieve its intention when at a minimum, it includes statements about:

· Commitment to injury and loss prevention as a key part of the company’s overall aims and goals,

· Requirement to comply with government legislation,

· Requirement to comply with the company’s health and safety standards,

· Reference to management responsibilities,

· Reference to supervisor’s responsibilities,

· Reference to workers’ responsibilities,

· Reference to responsibilities of contractors, suppliers and visitors.

So as to make for easy reading and understanding, the policy needs not be overloaded with statements. An outstanding health and safety policy is a one-page document that captures the above listed points in a concise and pristine manner.

Health and Safety Responsibilities

One fact is true for every business activity that takes place in a company and that is: where responsibilities are not delineated and definitively allocated, confusion results, leading to sub-optimal performance and eventually to failure to deliver. This is also true in the case of health and safety. In translating the policy into an executable program, management has to determine who does what, why, when, where and how. This is what allocation of responsibilities entails. The extent to which health and safety responsibilities have been effectively determined and allocated is a significant measure of management involvement and commitment to the program.

A good set of health and safety responsibilities will:

· Be developed for senior management, management, supervisors, workers, contractors and visitors.

· Be written, precise, disseminated, read and understood by individuals at the various organizational levels.

A rule of thumb for setting out responsibilities is that they should be position specific, task specific, clearly stated and quantifiable. This way, it becomes easy for performance measures to be set in order to promote accountability.

Management Communication

As information overload is the bane of today’s business environment and so is work overload. If management is not shouting for something to get done, it may not even be considered. This underscores the importance of management communication in showing its commitment and involvement in health and safety. By focusing the people’s attention on an area where the company is struggling to improve, the achievement of success in that area becomes a matter of time, efforts and money where applicable.

How can management communication be actualized? Here are a few practical examples from high performing companies:

· Writing quarterly or annual statements to the employees, to reinforce senior management consistent commitment to achieving its health and safety goals.

· Ensuring that employees at all levels read and sign off on these statements to show that they have read and understood the communication.

· Walking the talk by personally visiting the workplace strictly for observing work, listening, talking and commending workers (where appropriate) on health and safety issues and concerns.

· Ensuring that health and safety issues, concerns and solutions feature prominently on meeting agendas.

· Conducting periodic reviews of the whole program to identify deficiencies and opportunities for improvement.

· Conducting documented surveys of employees’ perceptions in order to assess their belief in the company’s delivery system.

Communication as a key element of a health and safety program should appear in the responsibility lists of every stake holder in the company. Senior and middle management should be the principal drivers of this element across the organization.

Accountability

The last but not the least factor successful companies have used in translating their health and safety policy into results is accountability. What it simply means is: to hold people to answer for what they were asked to do. In others words, checking to ensure that responsibilities have been executed as expected.

Several tools are used to achieve accountability some examples of which are:

· Setting health and safety performance measures (target) for the whole organization and for each stakeholder.

· Conducting periodic performance appraisal for each individual stakeholder (Senior management, middle management, supervisors, workers, contractors and suppliers)

· Implementing reward and award schemes.

· Implement a consequence management system.

In concluding, management engaging involvement and commitment invariably leads to success in achieving the organizational goal of injury and loss prevention. Some of the management involvement and commitment tools and techniques that high performing companies have employed in achieving their health and safety results have been explained in this article. Involvement has to be visible proactive and demonstrable while commitment means that where conflicting pressures exist, the safety of the people, assets, environment and company reputation will be given priority.