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NEVER MIND THE SYSTEM FEEL THE CULTURE

Role of leadership in H&S: Report and analysis by European Agency

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has published a report entitled: Leadership and Occupational Safety and Health (OSH): An Expert analysis considering the “necessary corporate leadership factors on which success depends”. The report reviews existing literature on H&S leadership and analyses the results of 16 case studies from companies across the EU.

The report states the literature indicates that introducing new requirements on workers to work more safely are of limited value on their own. Lasting and continuing improvements “will only be brought about by creation of a prevention culture which shows that the organisation places the highest values on workplace H&S”.

The report concludes that far-reaching cultural changes can only succeed when driven by the organisation’s leaders and that “attitudes and behaviours regarding safety and health promotion are arguably of greater importance than structures, processes and systems.

Guiding principles for health and safety leadership

Five broad guiding principles for H&S leadership were identified from previous research:

1. Leaders must take seriously their responsibility for the establishment of a positive prevention culture. This will require them to employ a repertoire of leadership styles which can take account of the cultural context including the emotional intelligence necessary effect changes in culture and in behaviours;

2. Leaders should be seen to prioritise H&S policies above other corporate objectives, and apply them consistently across the organisation and over time;

3. H&S measures can only deliver to their full potential if they have the unequivocal commitment of an organisation’s board and senior management. High-level management, not just line management or specialists, must be directly involved in implementing H&S policies;

4. Good, regular, multi-level communication is vital to the delivery of improvements in H&S. Leaders should set out to cultivate an open atmosphere in which all can express their experience, views and ideas about H&S and which encourages collaboration between stakeholders, both internal and external, around delivery of a shared H&S vision; and

5. Leaders should show they value their employees, and promote active worker participation in the development and implementation of H&S measures.

The case studies examined suggest that leadership and management factors have the most impact on whether H&S measures succeed or fail.

Innovative approaches identified

Examples of innovative approaches found throughout the case studies were:

  1. To demonstrate top-level leadership, in one company each board director was given responsibility for one aspect of H&S, and provided advice and support to the relevant dedicated teams within the workforce. In a number of others, senior managers started undertaking safety tours of the workplace and engaging with employees.
  2. One company combined new measures with a rebranding of the company itself, to transform its image in the marketplace.
  3. New styles of management were introduced including, in one company, participative approaches which involved showing respect, involving workers, communicating and listening, and an emphasis on personal development.
  4. One company worked with its health insurance in the framework of an economic incentive scheme that rewarded specific prevention activities, such as to develop training and ergonomic measures. The collaboration with the health insurance lead to improve the safety and health of the employees and reduced the incidence of sick leave. Another company worked with employees on sick leave to prepare them for return to work, including exploring ways of lightening their workload.
  5. Several companies sought to promote employees’ direct involvement in the promotion of H&S. One involved them in undertaking observation rounds, while another created several teams of workers who investigated an area of business and suggested H&S improvements, before the teams were rotated and each area rechecked by a new team.
  6. A number of companies introduced award schemes to reward good safety behaviours. One unusual approach was in the company which gave a ‘bad practice award’ to workers who ignored H&S standards, with the aim of raising their awareness. Several companies ran competitions for good safety ideas, and one even involved employees’ children.
Comment

The EU report confirms much of the current HSE/IOD Leadership Guidance and recommendations contained in the construction industry Leadership and Worker Involvement toolkit.

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