Safety leadership at every level

Establishing and maintaining health and safety in the workplace requires genuine commitment from an organisation – and that starts with your leaders. Ai Group explains.

It is obviously good business practice to run a safe operation in your workplace – but organisations can only achieve good outcomes if there is clear leadership from the senior management of the business.

Officers are required to exercise due diligence (taking reasonable care) to ensure the organisation meets its legal obligations under health and safety laws. The due diligence approach to health and safety, seen in Figure 1, is consistent with the due diligence required in relation to every other important issue in the business.

Systems can assist the organisation to meet its health and safety obligations; however, a senior manager must be directly involved in understanding the business and making decisions about resource allocations. Senior managers also need to understand what is truly happening in the business; they need to convince workers that they want to know the real issues in the business and be prepared to do something about fixing them.

Colleagues and customers also rely on each business to have a safe operation and to ensure workers go home every day safely. As a business it is important to have clear, consistent messages regarding the business running the operation and its activities and how it is keeping people safe.

A safety journey and positive safety culture is not reliant upon one person, it involves the entire business. A vision where safety is valued, enforced, and acted on daily is necessary. Valuing coming to work and working safely is a responsibility everyone should have regardless of business size, culture, gender, and industry.

Excellent communication

Genuine conversations between senior management and workers which are focused on a joint benefit of improving safety will help to build trust and confidence. This will enable workers to contribute to other improvement opportunities and therefore potentially improve business productivity. Supervisors and managers are required to pass on messages about the importance of safety in the workplace and transfer this information to the broader workforce. At the same time any issues and concerns should also be raised with management to get issues resolved quickly and efficiently.

Middle managers have the toughest job of all when it comes to managing safety. They are often required to be the “middle-person” between the workers and the senior management team. It is important middle managers take messages from the leadership team and senior managers about how important safety is on the job and translate it down to their teams. At the same time, middle managers must take issues and concerns of their teams to management to help get them resolved. As a result, workers need to trust in these middle managers to be able to deliver this message accurately, so that their issues have been heard and translated correctly.

The impact of participation

It is important to have everyone involved in making decisions about safety issues in the business. This requires consulting with workers rather than just communicating to workers what needs to be done. Consultation involves asking feedback of workers and taking their views into consideration – it is not a process of telling them what to do. Everyone should be involved in a way where workers can voice their concerns and share any previous lessons learned to improve on practices within the workplace and identify opportunities for improvement.

Build safety leadership capability
Often when we consider developing safety capacity we find it is a technical skill set; however, it’s more than understanding safety concepts.

Two of the most important skills to provide people are communication and planning skills. Leaders’ communication skills are important so that when interventions need to occur leaders feel comfortable to highlight when safety issues are identified and can work with their teams to find ways to resolve any issues.

Communicating in front of groups of people and discussing safety issues and actions will help make the workplace safer and demonstrate safety leadership. Many incidents happen when undertaking work in strict timeframes and with little planning.

Preparing workers with planning skills provides opportunities to look at tasks and activities, identify any hazards present and then put in measures to prevent incidents and injuries from occurring.

The importance of leadership style
Leadership styles vary from person to person. However, when developing a team and enforcing a safety message, it’s important there is leadership from across the entire organisation. Collaborative and coaching styles are the most effective to increase engagement with workers and to establish a positive safety culture.

Persist and be relentless

Safety leadership is an ongoing process. Positive leadership must be in place from the planning stages of setting strategic plans, right through to ongoing encouragement, enforcement and reviews throughout the year. Keeping workers safe is a message that needs to be consistently delivered by all the leaders in your workforce, and it can’t be compromised. Safety must be a value that goes before all else.

Ai Group offers training in Safety Leadership in the Workplace. Ai Group’s online Health & Safety Resource Centre is a great reference centre for articles, templates and documents on WHS issues.