Almost every newspaper or magazine you read right now refers to the need for leadership in everything from politics, to banking, to business and to communities. It would appear that society as a whole has a huge thirst for new leadership. But what kind of leadership is society crying out for?

I believe that after the banking scandals, the property collapse and years of austerity, society is crying out for ethical, trustworthy leadership at all levels which focuses on the common good, not the selfish self.


Health and Safety

When it comes to health and safety, many companies have seen their health and safety performance plateau out in relation to reducing injuries, days lost and claims. Some very safety conscious organisations have gone on to have serious accidents or even fatalities that apparently contradict their otherwise low injury rate and Management within those organisations are now asking themselves why.

There can be many reasons for this including lack of hazard identification, lack of competent health and safety advice and ultimately only superficial buy in from management. Some of these organisations had well written Safety Statements, Risk Assessments, had provided training for employees, had suitable controls in place etc. But beneath all of that the health and safety culture had not fundamentally changed and hazards were missed, work practices had become sloppy.

Management did not care and Senior Management did not take sufficient interest. In essence there was an absence of real Safety Leadership from the top…..


What is Safety Leadership?

Real safety leadership is a way of planning, thinking, directing, coaching and doing things that put people first and at the heart of the Company. It is about creating a safe environment where the safe and healthy way of working is the only way. It is when complying with safe systems is the norm and where work gets done, safely, healthily, effectively, on time and within cost. It is a belief that employees come first.


How is Ireland doing?

Although Ireland’s overall health and safety performance is improving, (although not in agriculture), employees and others are still being injured or killed at work in a range of sectors. In their statistical summary released for 2013 to 2013 and from figures released for 2014 the Health and Safety Authority have confirmed the following fatality, accident and days lost statistics:

Category                                     2012         2013         2014        

Non-fatal injuries                       6,804        6,598        not yet known

Days Lost                               392,436     414,997      not yet known

Fatalities                                         48            47           55 (1)

In his “Safety Masterclass” Professor Peter McKie has outlined why he feels safety leadership is now required:

  • the country and society demands it
  • there is a moral responsibility (not to injure people)
  • there are legal obligations on employers and others
  • good health and safety is good business
  • fatalities can cost €1.5m
  • health and safety improvements impact positively on all other areas
  • with effective safety leadership 2% of GDP could be saved (2)



If Safety Leadership is to be taken seriously then the CEO has to lead it, believe in it and show the way for everyone else. They need to communicate their vision of how health and safety performance can be and will be in the future so everyone knows what it is, what their role in it is and how the company is going to get where they want to go.

The vision starts at the top but it is most often revealed through the actions of Team Leaders and Line Managers. Organisations get the safety culture they ask for. So if excellence in health and safety is never talked about or budgeted for then obviously it is not seen as important.

Ultimately health and safety is all about people, it is about protecting them every day, while they work and having zero injuries or work-related illnesses.


CEO is also Chief Safety Officer

The Chief Executive is also the Chief Safety Officer of the organization although few of them know it or behave as they should. Sadly many companies believe that Safety Management is the sole responsibility of health and safety professionals and it is often left to them to get on with it. The role of the Safety Manager should be advisory as they are not Line Managers.

Management has the moral and legal duty to manage, to take ownership of health and safety of their own areas and to demonstrate safety leadership in that area. They should receive training in Safety Leadership and be supported by Senior Managers in a consistent way.


Examples of good Safety Leadership in action (here are 9 to start with)

  1. Senior Managers have health and safety as a standard item on all meeting agendas throughout the company.
  1. Health and Safety is given equal billing with finance, production, HR, IT marketing etc. in terms of resources and time given to discussing it.
  1. Senior Managers regularly do safety observation walk-abouts and talk to employees every time.
  1. They actively observe work practices, challenge constructively when necessary, communicate the health and safety vision, coach individual employees, listen to their concerns, take notes and ultimately take action on issues raised.
  1. Safety leadership training is given to all Managers/Team Leaders who are then held to account by their boss for the health and safety performance of their departments.
  1. While meeting with their boss weekly or monthly the Manager and the Senior Manager both review the positives as well as the negatives within their departmental performance.
  1. Equally they measure the preventative actions taken which include safety audits, reviews of risk assessments, job safety analysis activity, safety forum discussions, refresher training given etc.
  1. Most importantly the bosses ask their reporting Managers “what health and safety activities they you engaged in, led or instigated this month and what are your plans for next month”?
  1. In relation to take home pay, it is made clean to Managers that their health and safety performance will be linked to their pay rise, bonus and opportunities for promotion.

Please note: this is Blog 1 in a series of 3 or 4 blogs I will be publishing over the next few months on Safety Leadership. Please visit my site – again to read subsequent blogs.



  1. Summary of Workplace Injury, Illness and Fatality Statistics 2012 – 2013 plus fatality statistics for 2014 from their website – www.hsa.ie


  1. Safety Leadership Masterclass – talk given by Professor Peter McKie at IOSH North West District event in May 2011. Professor McKie is the former Managing Director of Du Pont UK.