Health and Safety as a Value

Every organisation has values and principles. Typically they might include value for money, quality and dependability etc. Is health and safety a clearly stated value in your business? Or are all of your mission statements and other publications focused on customer issues and building the share price? Protecting your workforce needs to become a real value within the business for any of my suggestions to work.

Yes my suggestions below may reduce accidents, reduce absenteeism and ultimately save the company money but they are not the reasons to implement Safety Leadership. It should be driven by one overriding concern – to create a harm-free work environment for all that work for you. It needs to be that noble and not always related to money or production.

Think about a lighthouse, and as many of you know I love lighthouses. My favourite one is the Hook Lighthouse in Wexford which is featured above. They stand on the shore or sometimes off shore to warn shipping of rocks and other hazards. They ask for nothing in return. Their sole purpose is to protect mariners. They demonstrate the self-less care for other that I am advocating in Safety Leadership.

Ownership before leadership

In determining ownership ask yourself the following questions:

Does the Senior Management team take an active interest in health and safety?

Do they take part in audits and safety walk-abouts?

Is there one Director or Senior Manager with specific responsibility for health and safety at Board/Senior Management level?

If there is what training has that Senior person had?

Do you train your managers and supervisors to manage health and safety?

Do you hold those same managers and supervisors to account for the health and safety performance in their departments?

Is their bonus/performance appraisal linked in any way to the health and safety of their direct reports or is it all related to output and financial success?

Do you have an in house Health and Safety Professional whose job it is to ensure that the workplace is safe and when accidents happen they get the blame?

Safety Leadership

It is not just Senior Managers or Departmental Heads that can be leaders, in many cases they are not leaders but are in their positions because of history, nepotism or ownership. Anyone can be a leader. Look for leaders across all departments and sections. Sometimes employees show leadership skills and do not know it, others crave the opportunity to lead. Look for those that others respect and value the opinion of. Employees can choose to become leaders; they can bring leadership skills from outside the workplace into it and can have an effect. Leadership skills can be taught, learned and developed too.

Essence of Safety Leadership

Leaders, wherever they come from, need to be real, down to earth, caring, genuine and ready to implement change. They need to treat employees as human beings not just production units. They need to demonstrate, by their actions, that they want to make the work safe and healthy so all employees go home each day in one piece to their families.

Here are the 10 key steps to Safety Leadership:

  1. Create a vision – Outline the vision to create a workplace that is injury free. This is not utopia; it can be achieved with the will and the resources of Senior Management behind it. This vision needs to be repeated over and over again – it needs to be noble, meaningful, and worthwhile for the workforce.
  1. Inspire –Outline the vision for all employees at meetings and help them visualise it, what it will look like, sound like, feel like and be like for them coming to work each day. Then ask them to sign up for it in whatever role they play. Ask them to volunteer to become Safety Champions in their own areas and then train them to fulfill that role.
  1. Motivate –Lay out in plain terms what is in it for them. Portray a workplace where there are: no more injuries, no more interruptions to work, no more sickness absence due to workplace injuries or ill health, no more loss of earnings or bonus due to those absences, having all of their workmates at work, doing their job, pulling their weight, contributing to the work and enjoying it every day etc. Explain that everyone wins – workers, management and the company overall.
  1. Show integrity – Say what you mean and mean what you way. Be bluntly honest about how things are (current level of injuries, illness costs to employees and the company) and how that cannot continue and that it must change. Be open with the real cost of poor health and safety and the other costs to employees of pain, suffering, disruption to family life etc.
  1. Show passion and enthusiasm – If the Senior Management team cannot buy into this new strategy and cannot muster up passion and enthusiasm for it then it will never work. They have to lead it, drive it, master it and deliver it with all others for it to work. We want their passion and enthusiasm to be infectious so that everyone comes on board.
  1. Outline how it will be delivered – Clearly spell out who will be involved, how they will be trained, what they are going to do, when and where and using what resources etc. Talk about it as a “train that is leaving the station shortly” and that everyone needs to be on it. Failure to get on the train may mean that some managers or employees may leave the company altogether. Everyone needs to know that this is not just another “flavour of the month” concept that will fizzle out. Bring in or train up people to be competent to do it.
  1. Strategy versus Implementation – I am a great believer in action over excessive planning. If you want to plan something until it is perfect then you will never get started. My own approach has always been one of 30% strategy followed by 70% implementation in terms of time taken to do something. You can always tweak the plan once it is started but you can never achieve anything if you never actually start.
  1. Best Team Together – Put the best team together that you can. Take the brightest, best and some non-conformist employees you can find (the non-conformists tend to be truly creative) and demand that they challenge you. Encourage and enable them to be the best they can be. Train them, equip them, give them the goals and broad parameters and let them get on with it at it (with periodic reviews). Encourage them to set their own rules of engagement.
  1. Problems and Lateral Thinking Identify the top 5 problems and use Lateral Thinking to address them. Establish other teams across departments and sections. Involve everyone, not just mainstream departments. Celebrate important milestones and small steps; every move forward is a success.
  1. Recognition – Lots of “Thank Yous”, “Well Dones”, “Fantastic Job” etc. Rewards whatever they are should deliver emotional pleasure and they do not always have to be monetary. Tackle those that do not “get with the programme” use persuasion and then if that fails consider letting them leave the organisation.

Your Safety Leadership will ultimately be judged by what you did not by what you said you were going to do.



“What you need to know about Leadership” – by Jeff Grout and Liz Fisher

Published by Capstone Publishing Ltd, 2011. ISBN 978-0-857-08130-8