The introduction of International Standard ISO 45001 for Occupational health and safety management systems provided organisations an opportunity to renew their commitment to protecting workers from injury and illness. It introduced more contemporary and comprehensive health and safety practices than AS/NZS 4801 or OHSAS 18001 and, if integrated management systems are your thing, provides a safety management standard that aligns with ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 used for quality and environmental management.
Much of the attention brought about by its introduction has focused on better health and safety management system design through improved understanding of organisational context, the needs and expectations of interested parties and an expansion of consultation obligations. However, missing from much of the discussion has been the introduction of new Senior Leadership obligations. While some of these obligations are consistent with the legislative due diligence obligations introduced for Australian Company Officers more than 10 years ago, many will be unfamiliar, particularly those designed to promote and maintain a positive safety culture.
Where previous management system standards traditionally focussed on establishing standardised policies and procedures to improve safety performance, the ISO 45001 standard has recognised (finally!) that such improvements will need more from the organisation and its leaders.
Senior Leaders, or Top Management as defined by ISO 45001, are integral to an organisation’s culture. They set the organisation’s agendas and priorities and model the behaviours that others will emulate. Get it right and you will find your organisation and its people become increasingly informed about health and safety and take more accountability for their role in protecting people. In response, worker trust in the organisation and its values will improve, facilitating greater engagement in creating positive safety outcomes.
ISO 45001 outlines a series of responsibilities that Top Management should be able to demonstrate, with many designed to foster a positive safety culture. Some are direct, requiring that: Top management shall demonstrate leadership and commitment with respect to the OHS management system by developing, leading and promoting a culture in the organisation that supports the intended outcomes of the OH&S management system (Clause 5.1(k)). Other responsibilities are less direct, but equally important to fostering a positive safety culture, including those outlined below:
Being responsible and accountable for the prevention of work-related injury and ill health, as well as the provision of safe and healthy workplaces and activities
In most cases it’s the organisation and its systems that fail the worker, not the worker that fails the organisation. Being accountable for injuries and illnesses means that the organisation digs deep to understand what it can do to prevent injuries or illnesses from reoccurring, rather than focussing on the actions of the worker. This kind of attitude encourages workers to be open and honest with the organisation and gives the organisation an opportunity to improve before things cause injury or illness.
Communicating the importance of effective OH&S management and conforming to the OH&S management system
Senior leaders set the organisation’s priorities and if they are only talking about financial performance and the cost of safety it’s unlikely that effective OHS management is going to be a priority for anyone else. Instead, when Senior Leaders talk regularly about how important safety is, focussing on the benefits to workers and the tools available to help, workers will know where the organisation’s priorities lie and will seek out the tools to achieve them.
Ensuring that the OHSMS achieves its intended outcomes
It’s not good enough that an organisation sets up an OHS Management System, it has to work. If the Management System isn’t preventing injury and illness or providing a safe workplace then Senior Leaders need to ensure that further efforts, including consultation with workers, and resources are applied until it does. Failure to do so will only demonstrate to workers that your priorities lie elsewhere.
Supporting other relevant management roles to demonstrate leadership
Good leaders delegate to their team and should trust and support them to improve health and safety. Creating an environment where everyone can demonstrate leadership creates a culture where everyone is looking out for the health and safety of everyone else, not just within their areas of responsibility. Those demonstrating such leadership need to be able to do so without fear of stepping on someone else’s toes.
If Senior Leaders or other members of the management team are undermining or challenging the efforts of others to improve workplace safety there will be little motivation for them to continue.
Protecting workers from reprisals when reporting incidents, hazards, risks and opportunities
This is another opportunity for Senior Leaders to set the organisation’s priorities, one where a culture of reporting supports a culture of learning. If reporting hazards and incidents seems like a burden to be avoided or an opportunity to blame ‘incident prone’ workers then safety incidents will soon be seen as ‘just part of the job’ and swept under the rug and that can be devastating to a positive safety culture.
Protecting workers also extends to empowering them to remove themselves or stop work when unsafe work situations arrive that threaten their health and safety.
Directing and supporting persons to contribute to the effectiveness of the OH&S management system
Getting the OHS Management System to work as intended requires the getting the right people to contribute to its improvement. This means encouraging both informal feedback and formal analysis of performance. Only as knowledge of the management system grows can targeted sustainable improvements be delivered.
Ensuring and promoting continuous improvement
Good business leaders don’t let their product or service become stale. Reviewing what works and doesn’t work about a product or service is vital to understand how to make it better. The same goes with an OHS Management System. A positive safety culture seeks out bad news and sees audits and reviews as positives that help to drive improvements in safety performance.
Ensuring the organisation establishes and implements processes for consultation and participation of workers & supporting the establishment and functioning of health and safety committees
It has long been recognised that listening to workers about their experiences is imperative to understanding the hazards and risks they face. If an organisation only wants to dictate to workers they aren’t going to be fully informed of the issues, causing workers to lose trust and disengage with any process. Ensuring that there are processes, both formal and informal, that enable them to have their say and be heard will drive their engagement in the organisation’s safety priorities.
If an organisation’s Senior Leaders can fulfil these responsibilities it will create ownership and accountability across the organisation, one where everyone is informed and cares about what is happening. The spreading of responsibility for safety management throughout the operations also has positive effects beyond the management team demonstrating care for their team. Relying on centralised safety teams to do everything is neither effective nor efficient. While subject matter expertise in health and safety is imperative, these resources are better utilised thinking strategically and providing guidance and support to operations than doing safety themselves.
If you’re a senior leader or a safety professional that would like to understand how to ensure a positive safety culture is part of your OHS Management System contact Verus today to speak to one of our experienced consultants.