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HSE CHAIR HIGHLIGHTS HEALTH AND SAFETY LEADERSHIP

Conference address to ‘high hazard industries’ has lessons for construction

On 2 June 2011 HSE Chair, Judith Hackitt, addressed an international conference in Melbourne concerning the application of “effective leadership and enhancing competency improvement in hazardous industries”. 

The paper is directed towards the nuclear, oil and chemicals sectors, however, much of speech is relevant to the construction sector. Ms Hackitt is convinced that:

“strong leadership is crucial in the major hazard industries and because many organisations in this sector operate globally with a reach that gives them widespread influence it is vital that this concept and the things that underpin it are understood internationally.

She goes on to explain how effective leadership is a key element in the drive towards excellence in all aspects of health and safety. The paper includes:

  • review of past disasters and lessons learned;
  • examination of the underlying principles of leadership and why these can determine the culture of an entire organisation; and
  • recent case studies showing good and bad examples of leadership.

The selection of quotations below indicate the thrust of her argument:

Leadership and measurement

“Real leadership is characterised by skills and competences which go beyond technical expertise. Exceptional people skills, the ability to influence and motivate and above all to communicate in language that is meaningful to people is also crucial.”

“Leadership is not just important – it is fundamental. Because without that leadership from the very top of the organisation, none of the rest of the elements of a strong health and safety system will happen.”

“The use of over simplified measures and targets have blinded managers and leaders to the really important measures of the true state of their assets. Lagging indicators – largely reporting trivial incidences of very minor injuries – have been allowed to take the place of real time measures of process performance and integrity.”

“Ever decreasing numbers of first aid injuries are not a good indication of the state of the assets or of how well the process is operating. A wealth of measurement and recording of data doesn’t help either if the right things are not reported to the right people and in a way that they can understand.”

Culture and responsibility

“No matter how high the standards ….. the quest for improvement should never stop. Seeking to learn from events, new knowledge and experience, both nationally and internationally, must be a fundamental feature of the safety culture.”

“Failure to understand the true role of those who are charged with managing safety can also be a factor, especially by senior managers and leaders. Those whose job title is “safety management” are there to ensure that everyone else is playing their part in managing safety as an integral part of every person’s job.”

“It is not to do it for them and most certainly it is not possible for senior managers to delegate the leadership of safety to one director or individual. Acting as the conscience or the champion of safety within an organisation is one thing, fragmentation of functions to the extent that senior managers believe that safety responsibility belongs with someone else is another.”

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