Safety indicators misleading executives

Posted by Andrew McGiffert |18 Aug 12 | 0 comments

The beginning of 2012 saw the introduction of the Work Health and Safety Act and Regulations across many of Australia’s States and Territories. A fundamental shift in new the new legislation is the identification of who an officer is and what their responsibilities are. Health and Safety businesses and consultants have been swift to act on the lack of understanding amongst businesses and in some cases businesses are coming out more confused than ever.

Richard Swift, EHS Manager for WSP Environment and Energy has recently shared his observations from workshops delivered to executives in a range of industries finding there is a common view ‘just because I am a liable officerm am I really the only one with responsibility’.

Many executives regard health and safety as one of their highest liability risks, working amongst business leaders I have too often felt that the concern expressed by leaders is not primarily a worry for peoples safety but a fear of liability and prosecution. This fear is clouding the true purpose of health and safety, whilst no leader wants to see an employee become injured at work they are becoming more afraid of being labeled as negligent or being blamed for a workplace incident.

As discussed by Richard Swift in his report, ‘executives are number crunchers, so most of their decisions are based on numbers. Success = profit. Failure = loss”. This method of thinking to often finds its way into safety measures, resulting in something like this,

Success = no incidents. Failure = incidents.

This method of measuring begins to create a false sense of security as divisions within the business begin to avoid reporting and finding ways around the reporting of incidents, the business unknowingly end up with this,

Success = no incidents reported.

Suddenly leading indicators have been manipulated and degenerated into misleading indicators, adding no value to the business and again placing executives in a position of liability. Effective leading safety measures should focus on business improvement and distance themselves from the classical ‘profit and loss’ style meausrements. Workplace incidents will continue to occur unless employees are engaged through consultation and executives resist over-relying on ‘leading’ indicators.

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