“Our Workplace Health & Safety Team Is Responsible For Maintaining A Safe Work Environment” (Myth 8)

Many organisations with a workplace health & safety function have an automatic perception that the safety performance of the company is under control. And in some cases, this is true. Often, though, it leads to a false sense of security.

The thinking is “We have recently commissioned a workplace health & safety team with two full-time dedicated employees—our company should be safe now.”

This is true, up to a point, but it shouldn’t mean you become complacent and take the view that it is only the job of the workplace health & safety team to prevent accidents and that it is exclusively their problem and responsibility if accidents occur.

Many times, I have found that organisations hold the view that if there is an accident or a safety hazard, the response should be to call the safety manager to fix the problem. This leads to over-reliance on the safety manager. He becomes indispensable; so, when he’s not around, who takes responsibility?

This “over-reliance” way of thinking doesn’t give ownership to the frontline leader; consequently, health and safety is never part of their thinking, which can easily lead to further problems.

QUICK TEST

  • Who investigates any safety incidents that happen?
  • Who runs the safety committee meeting?
  • Who conducts risk assessments?
  • Who conducts safety briefings or toolbox talks to the teams?
  • Who follows up and manages the implementation of controlling the hazards?

If you answered at least one of these questions as “the safety manager,” then safety is not yet completely owned by your company. This is not to say the safety team mustn’t fulfil the tasks above, but their primary role should be to set the systems up, train, coach, support, assess and improve—not fully own and perform the tasks listed above.
 
 
Accountability and responsibility should lie with leaders and their teams.

It is important that you don’t just assume your leaders know how to fulfil the role. By delegating ownership, you need to provide capability. You have to build people’s capability, skills and competencies.

They need the right knowledge, methods and tools. They need to have the ability to take responsibility and ownership. This was a key strategy that I implemented when I was the head of Health & Safety for Nestlé.

Think of it like the emergency landing procedures on an aeroplane. Your safety manager is like your flight attendant. They provide the awareness, training and guidance required, so that in the event that something happens, people can take responsibility for themselves and those they need to look after.

It’s not uncommon to hear, “I understand why health and safety is important in an industrial or manufacturing setting, but why does health and safety need attention and focus for non-high-risk operations such as offices and retail stores?”

The simple answer is that there are always risks in the workplace, no matter where you are. The risks may be high or low, but they will never be completely eliminated.