Making the Health & Safety Bridge…

19th October 2015

Why, when we are doing so many things to address business risk, are we making so little progress in improving our H&S results? The leader of any organisation is presented with the task of setting the direction of travel and taking the business with them. The success of this task is dictated by many things but what we do know, is that for those businesses that succeed, clearly communicated Beliefs and Values linked to a simple Vision and Strategy are well established and understood. People know what is expected and how to achieve it! The words and actions of the top person are matched by complementary words and actions at all levels of the organisation and a significant change in results is possible.

Why, when we are doing so many things to address business risk, are we making so little progress in improving our H&S results?
Sounds simple, so how do the Beliefs and Values get so lost in the day to day workings of an organisation? Why are the Vision and Strategy for Health & Safety often disconnected from the main business Vision and Strategy? Ultimately, why is there sometimes no (or limited) obvious impact of lots of activity on results such as Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR).

Firstly it is essential to think about the clear difference between performance and results. We can slip into the habit of endlessly evaluating the results, “longingly staring at the graphs” with limited focus on what our performance was really like. So a better question might be “Why, when we are doing so many things to improve H&S, are we making so little progress with improving our H&S Performance?” This question can more sensibly be answered by looking at the output from the tools we have to identify day to day performance.

You may think that it is odd, or unrealistic, to question if H&S is a real value of modern organisations. Surely not killing people, not giving them chronic health conditions but focusing on a highly efficient and profitable business must be right up there with the things we believe in and value most! As you reflect on this for your own organisation, ask yourselves: “How do people know what I value?” and if a stranger were to ask your team “What does your boss value?” what would they say? It is healthy and helpful to develop a personal guide outlining what an organisation would look like with Health & Safety as an established value. How would you compare currently?

Where an executive group have concluded on the importance of H&S to them, i.e. they believe and value it highly, then this must be anchored in the recorded Vision of the organisation. When I look at the website of an organisation, I always stop to compare the Values and Vision in the “About” section and then look at how this matches with the information provided in the “H&S” section. Often the “Number 1 Priority” of the organisation as displayed in the “H&S” section is not even mentioned in the “About” section!

I think exhortations about H&S as a “Number one Priority” or the need for “Zero Harm” are doomed to failure because they are not constituent parts of the Beliefs, Values and Vision of the organisation. If this all seems a bit too much like management speak overload, I always like to follow the simple proposition: “What interests my boss, fascinates me”! Where are you motivated to really spend your time and resources on a day to day basis?

In short, business repeatedly show success in things which they believe in and have a value for. Within those success stories, we find the topic was clearly stated as a business value, that its achievement was prioritised for resource and high level review, that the workforce was well engaged in its achievement and its success was ultimately led from the top. The words alone mean nothing. Strong H&S performance is not directly proportionate to management exhortations or the number of Zero Harm posters.

Success in Health & Safety requires a bridge to be made. This bridge genuinely connects the organisation Beliefs and Values and associated management level commitment that drives them to the core risk management activities that address people and the work tasks they conduct. Without the bridge it is almost inevitable that, despite lots of targeted H&S activity, there will be limited sustainable impact on H&S performance.

To discuss the bridge further, please get in touch –

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