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Health and Safety Leadership - the new boardroom challenge

Over the past months, governance has turned attention on the issue of health and safety, much of which has been highlighted because of the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety and the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy. But action is more than just ensuring processes are in place – it’s about taking leadership and ensuring that health and safety is embedded in the organisation's culture.

This is easy to say but it demands a change of no longer accepting things at face value. It’s about asking the hard questions, the right questions and the appropriate questions to alert all to the signals or red flags that could indicate that there are things or activities that have to change, areas where more care is demanded or where more resources need to be employed. In essence, it’s about walking the talk and creating a mind-set change.

It starts with building leadership capability – the governance team being the board and senior management working to create an organisation safety plan while ensuring all operational procedures are functional, operational and communicated. It demands senior management and board members to visit all sites and reinforce your organisation’s safety programme and to sell in your organisation’s safety mission.

Monitoring is a critical element and that means monitoring the right things. Check that your organisation has considered and documented the appropriate leading as well as lagging indicators so that a dynamic picture is always on the radar. The board should also ensure that these measures become regular board items and that any deviation from accepted practice is recorded and has been actioned.

Your organisation’s health and safety commitment is more that meeting your organisation’s legal obligations or caring about reputational risk. Instead it’s more about how you care for your employees, the people that make your organisation what it is and how it will work with you to make it what you want it to become.