During the last six months I have been involved in delivering practical workshops and audits in the UK, the Middle East and France of the new international standard (ISO 45001) for health and safety management systems.
It has been encouraging to experience how organisations from a broad range of sectors are positively embracing the standard and pro-actively seeking to improve their current health, safety and welfare arrangements, and to not only meet the requirements of the standard but to genuinely commit to enhance the workplace environment for their workers and other stakeholders.
As most people will be aware, the development of ISO 45001 was not without difficulty and there remains scepticism among some influential quarters regarding the usefulness of the standard to small and medium- sized enterprises. However, I have found first-hand a real interest and commitment to understand and proportionately implement the ethos of the standard content.
This has been particularly evident in relation to one of the main themes of the standard, namely the consultation and participation of relevant stakeholders in the continual improvement of health and safety arrangements in the workplace.
Furthermore, the requirement to emphasise the participation of non-managerial groups in processes such as risk assessment, incident investigation, competency requirements and objective setting has enabled the more forward thinking organisations to extend involvement and ownership across the business.
The development of such a culture, together with visible leadership and commitment from top management, is a powerful and positive business ethos and has wider positive implications than just health, safety and welfare benefits.
An organisation that positively includes non-managerial groups in the process of improving workplace conditions and practices is far more likely to have a higher level of staff retention, efficiency and a positive corporate image than one imposing such conditions and practices without consultation or participation.
I find it quite astonishing in the modern workplace that key stakeholders (those carrying out the tasks) are often still not consulted as a matter of course during the design stages of operational activities.
This consultation and actual effective participation is never more important than when changes occur, however small they may seem. Change within any organisation is inevitable and indeed could be considered essential for the continual improvement of the business.
If managed in a mature and inclusive manner, the experience should be a positive one and thereby enhance the culture within the business. Conversely, if change is managed poorly, without consultation and assessment of the impact on relevant stakeholders, then the effectiveness of that change is very likely to be seriously affected.
A key indicator of the level of pro-active participation within any organisation is whether workers feel empowered to intervene whenever they observe unsafe acts or conditions within their workplace.
This should be a matter for all employees and other stakeholders in the workplace who should not feel in any way restricted in raising concerns whenever such conditions are identified. Addressing just one unsafe behaviour may well stop an accident occurring.
Of course, top management in any organisation has a key role to play in promoting and improving a participative culture within the business. Indeed, ISO 45001 places explicit requirements on this level of management, including developing, leading and promoting a culture within the business that supports the outcomes of the health and safety management system and also establishing processes for consultation and participation of workers.
Senior management within any organisation, regardless of the size or nature of the business, should model expected behaviours especially in relation to health, safety and wellbeing matters. Anything less undermines the culture and signals that it is sometimes acceptable to ‘cut corners’.
I well recall during an audit some years ago I was inspecting a warehouse facility and the head of logistics informed me that he did not need to wear PPE within the area as he was “well aware of the hazards and risks”! Such attitudes are thankfully less apparent these days and most senior managers will recognise the importance and value of adopting good health, safety and welfare practices across the business.
After all, it could be argued that the highest standard you can expect is the lowest standard you will tolerate.
David Parr is director of policy and technical services at the British Safety Council
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