Occupational Health and Safety Training – The Role of Managers in WHS

LOSH home page image occupational health and safety training – the role of managers in whsThe first criteria that you need to satisfy in order for you to complete the first element of the competency unit and to get your Certificate IV in Occupational Health and Safety is to take steps to ensure that managers at all levels are aware of their WHS responsibilities and the role of WHS in the overall management approach.

The Introduction to this learning guide stated that a systematic and systemic approach to managing WHS should deliver:

  • an appropriate organisational and management environment;
  • a well-designed physical environment;
  • equipment that is sufficient and fit for purpose;
  • suitable rules and procedures; and
  • competent and knowledgeable workers. (Borys, 2001)

Therefore strategic planning for the organisation, and for WHS, should ensure that these objectives are kept in mind. The Introduction also discussed what an appropriate organisational and management environment might look like.

The organisational culture [what is important, how things work, and the way we do things around here (Reason, 1997)] is important in making the systematic approach to managing WHS work. Managers create culture by what they systematically pay attention to and what they measure, control, reward and in other ways deal with (Schein in Hopkins, 2004). Thus the way the senior managers conduct the strategic planning process, the goals and objectives, the measurement and the evaluation process will impact on the organisational culture and so the effectiveness of the management of WHS.

The concept of a learning culture, as discussed in the Introduction, is also important in how managers approach strategic planning. When an organisation has, or aims for a learning culture, they will be willing and have the competence to draw the right conclusions from its WHS information system, and the will to implement major reforms when the need is indicated. Thus the existence of a learning culture will impact on the approach to strategic planning and so the management of WHS.

The Role of WHS in the Overall Management Process

The WHS practitioner wanting to discuss with managers the role of WHS in the overall management processes can find useful reference in the work of Andrew Hopkins, particularly Lessons from Longford (2000), Safety, Culture and Risk (2004) and Failure to Learn (2008). Not only do these case studies show the business interruption and financial impact of disasters but they highlight how approaches to overall management contributed to the disaster. The following examples are extracted from the Hopkins references:

Longford gas plant explosion: (Hopkins, 2000)

  • Control failure by parent company;
  • Cost cutting;
  • Resourcing decisions;
  • Management and prioritisation of maintenance;
  • Management of and response to auditing;
  • Selection of performance measures; and
  • Location of expertise.

Glenbrook rail disaster: (Hopkins, 2004)

  • Culture of on-time running;
  • Rule-focused culture;
  • Culture of silos; and
  • Risk blind culture;
  • Texas City oil refinery explosion (Hopkins, 2008)
  • Cost cutting;
  • Reward structure;
  • Decentralisation;
  • Leadership; and
  • Risk management approach.

There does not have to be a disaster for the link between WHS and management to be made clear.

It should be remembered that WHS risks are a part of everything a business does, and WHS does not stand outside of the normal business activities. Thus WHS should be included as an integral part of an organisation’s strategic planning.

While it has been said around the world for many years that good safety makes for good business, research conducted in Australia in the early 2000s (Mather & Finkel, 2003) provided evidence by exploring the relationship between the WHS performance and share price performance of large companies. Westpac surveyed the companies on the Australian stock market to try to find companies in each industrial sector that had good arrangements for WHS (good policies and procedures for managing their safety, purchasing new equipment and for selecting sub-contractors for example). They then set up a portfolio of these companies and compared the performance of the ‘good WHS performers’ with the rest of the Australian stock exchange (ASX) over the previous ten years.

The ‘good WHS performers’ appear to have outperformed the share price growth of the ASX over the ten years. Westpac also compared the performance with a subset of companies on the ASX to make an even more cautious comparison (the ‘surveyed universe’ in Figure 3) but still the good WHS performers appeared to be growing their share price faster than the poorer WHS performers.

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Published by: LMIT

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