For effective risk management and workplace health and safety, business decisions must be made based on real data and evidence. But for many OHS Officers and Project Managers, getting your teams to actively engage in your safety strategy and collect the data you need, can be an upward battle. In addition to this, you might struggle to get the Board to make Health & Safety a priority and utilise the collected data to inform their business decisions. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place! While being caught in the middle, any role that deals with the health and safety of workers, and the compliance of businesses, is a crucial one.
But how can you be sure that your staff are actively taking part in workplace health and safety, and how do you ensure your OHS findings are a priority in the boardroom?
Communicating Up and Down
In order to engage the workers below you and the Board above, it is critical that all parties understand the kind of data that needs to be collected and why. If everyone understands how data can be used to improve the business, set the strategy, measure risk, implement controls and help decide budget and resource allocation, then they are seeing the bigger picture and will be far more likely to get on board.
What are the obstacles?
For the Board and executive team, it’s normally not a case of safety falling on deaf ears; it’s about different priorities. If your Board does not make safety a top priority, it can quickly be buried beneath conflicting agendas or simply viewed as a box-ticking exercise. It is imperative that the Board and executive team understand (or are reminded about) the impact of safety on the business.
They need to see that a strong safety management system offers multiple advantages:
Decreased absenteeism and turnover
Higher engagement of staff and increases in productivity
Reduced business costs, including recruitment, insurance and worker levies.
Positive reputation in the market and strong employer brand
Increase in economic returns. A study conducted by NSW Government found that effective OHS strategies produced a cash return of $3 - $6 for every $1 invested.
For workers, the obstacle can often be attributed to a disconnect between the valuable work they do and the perceived attitude of the ‘powers that be’ when it comes to their safety. This ‘us against them’ mentality only starts to take root if workers feel that their concerns, ideas, feedback or problems fall on deaf ears. They may feel disinclined to report hazards, risks or events (data that is critical to risk management and compliance) because they don’t see any tangible results from speaking up. They also may become disengage if they feel their safety is not a priority when compared to productivity requirements.
What is the solution?
If this sounds familiar to you, there is a cultural problem in the business that needs the attention of all parties.
Here’s how a cultural shift in the right direction can occur:
Raise the issue to the executive team first. If they and the Board understand what they will gain (as stated above) from a more positive safety culture, they will be supportive in fixing the issues, particularly if costs are kept low.
An anonymous survey can be a great measure of sentiment for your teams. Allow them to freely report their feedback without the fear of negative repercussions. There are number of free online survey creators that can be used, or simply pass out a form for everyone to fill in and have them drop it anonymously in a box.
Analyse the findings to get a clearer picture of what needs to be repaired and prioritise them by how important each issue is. If you get complaints about PPE, that is a big priority that requires investment. If your staff feel that that they can’t speak up about problems or give feedback, then you’ll need a plan to empower them.
Be open to receiving this negative feedback. It serves a higher purpose and will result in you being able to do your job more effectively. Don’t take it personally and encourage upper management not to take it personally either.
Report your findings and plan back to the executive team. If investment of funds is required, make sure you have a strong case prepared to justify the spend. At the end of the day, the leadership team and Board can be held personally responsible for safety shortfalls with fines and even jail time, so make sure they know what is at stake.
Show your workers that their feedback has been taken on board and that changes are being made. Once they see that both you and the upper management are actively taking steps to improve their safety and well-being, half the battle is won.
Empower your people to take WHS seriously by reporting hazards, events or incidents immediately. That’s why we created the Vault Notify app; so workers can report their findings in real time from any location. This data is crucial for your reporting so you can’t afford to miss anything. Encourage them to provide feedback, share their concerns and offer solutions.
Ensure that workers understand how the information they collect is being used to inform the decisions of the business. This step is critical and often forgotten about. If the people on the ground see the tangible results of the data they collect, they feel a part of the broader business vision. It encourages them to keep communications open, which benefits everyone.