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BOARDROOM ADVICE FROM HSE CHIEF

Top 10 Tips from HSE for Boardroom H&S Leadership

In the annual Rivers lecture HSE Chair Judith Hackitt has spoken of the importance of visible leadership by company boardrooms as the key to further progress in health and safety at work. 

Ms Hackitt stressed that it is for Boards to set an exemplar for the whole organisation and that shaking Boards out of the ‘apathy’, referred to by Lord Roben in 1974, is still relevant today. She went on to spell out what good leadership looks like in practice:

What does good leadership look like in practice?

  1. Management: compliance assurance and performance measures are necessary but not enough. Good leaders operate within a framework but use their judgment and adjust their behaviour to suit the prevailing circumstances. These are the principles of real self regulation and good leadership;
  2. Common Sense: is at the heart of good leadership coupled with personal responsibility and integrity. Avoid excess bureaucracy and do not try to eliminate all risk as this is not possible and not what the law requires;
  3. Judgement: health and safety is an area of management requiring judgment at board level and throughout the organisation. People need to be trained and encouraged to exercise their own judgment and not just comply with the rules. This has implications for how staff are trained which should be less about what the law requires and more about how to apply the legal framework in a practical and pragmatic way;
  4. Boardroom Behaviour: the nature of the debate which takes place at board meetings is crucial to defining the culture of the whole organisation. Better to have a quarterly or six monthly in-depth review of health and safety than a monthly cursory glance at a set of lagging indicators;
  5. Risk Profiling: the board must have a realistic and accurate picture of the risk profile of the organisation. It is only by understanding the true risk profile of your own organisation and then addressing the highest risks that you can demonstrate real leadership. Delve into the murky waters where the real problems lie and be ready to tackle what you find;
  6. Championing: a boardroom ‘champion’ is good practice but not if that appointment abrogates all other Board members from any role or interest in health and safety. In the best organisations all board members take a real and active interest in the subject;
  7. Personal Interest: board members must take personal responsibility and show genuine interest by visiting workplaces and talking to staff. Ask about their health and safety concerns and show genuine interest and concern in their response; 
  8. Guidance: The HSE / Institute of Directors guidance on leadership for Directors and Board members should be used to benchmark health and safety leadership in your organisation;
  9. Action: leadership comes from actions not words. What does the company policy say about driving on company business? Do you allow the use of mobile phones while driving? Do you expect senior managers to get into cars and drive at the end of long flights? If you do these things but apply rigorous health and safety procedures in other parts of the workplace the message is clear – “this applies to you but not us” and; 
  10. Supply Chain: finally, if your organisation is already high performing in health and safety, extend your leadership into the supply chain.

Comment: HSE has issued guidance to Inspectors for 2009 on use of the IoD/HSE guidance during inspection and investigation to examine with directors how effective they are at leading health and safety. Inspectors have been advised that “individual directors etc. are liable to prosecution, e.g. via S.37 of HSW Act in relation to their responsibility for offences committed by their organisations. The importance of effective leadership will be reinforced by seeking the opportunity to take enforcement action against directors etc. in appropriate circumstances”. 

Boardrooms would do well to make such enforcement unecessary by following the 10 tips mentioned above.

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