NZIM By G-OSH, It Works – Promoting management that cares

Whatever injures people at work, injures the organisation. Conversely, organisations get real and tangible paybacks from integrating best practice health and safety into their mainstream management processes.
This simple guiding philosophy underpins 10 years of work Gavin Johnson has put into delivering the New Zealand Institute of Management’s Diploma in Health and Safety Management programme. Each year, the redoubtable Australian health and safety consultant embarks on his mission to convert more New Zealand enterprises to adopting his cause.
“I have always found it difficult to understand why we need to have law to tell us to look after one another,” he says. “And why do we need laws to tell employers how and what to do to train people properly to work in their organisations?”
Johnson is constantly bemused by the continued existence of businesses that feel compelled to ask what exactly and specifically the law requires of them rather than thinking in terms of improvement or doing things better for the sake of the organisation and enhanced performance. There is, he says, direct correlation between good health and safety practices and enhanced organisational results.
NZIM’s mission in recruiting Johnson from Adelaide South Australia to drive its annual health and safety programmes is to encourage employers to think about their organisations and what they must do to effectively manage their health and safety processes. recruitment that now sees Johnson spending much of his time in New Zealand.
“We try to give people ideas about what to do on day-to-day basis,” says Johnson. “We want them to understand that if an organisation manages its health and safety to suit its operations it will also gain employee and community respect while simultaneously meeting the Government’s major legislative requirements. But at the end of the day, health and safety is business and not simply legal responsibility. And that responsibility carries right through to the governance level of the enterprise.”
Looking back over the 10 years he has worked with NZIM, Johnson concedes that more organisations, and private sector companies in particular, have come to grips with the need to manage health and safety as part of the business and not as “a separate entity”. But, he adds, it has “taken long time for some of them to realise that managing health and safety can become part of their competitive advantage”.
To his mind, health and safety is more than basic management programme and more than an off-the-shelf management system designed to deliver legislative compliance. Health and safety is no longer one-size-fits-all solution. “In the early days employers wanted to introduce health and safety at the speed of light rather than do it in an environment where employees could learn and understand the reasons, benefits and their responsibilities.”
Management is, however, beginning to understand the bonuses that good health and safety management systems deliver. According to Johnson, managers are starting to realise that when they personally sponsor and make commitment to health and safety system designed specifically to suit the organisation, their credibility increases and employee morale improves.
Organisations are also budgeting for their health and safety, realising that it is both short and long term investment in growth and improvement. “An organisation’s health and safety management system should link directly with the enterprise’s total business risk management framework,” says Johnson.
Employer attitudes have changed but, says Johnson, there are still few around who believe that employees are “paid for the use of their hands rather than their heads”.
Employee attitudes have also changed, according to Johnson. Many are even more aware of their employer’s responsibilities than are their employers.
“Employees have reasonable expectation that their employers will look after them,” he says. “They expect that the employer will train them properly to do their job and tell them if they need to be aware of any dangers. They also expect supervision of work area and the plant and equipment used to do the job. They expect support and the promotion of their safety as paramount management responsibility.”
In reality, according to Johnson, employees are frequently given responsibility without the training and skills to ensure they can fulfil those duties or responsibilities. Safety management is 24/7 operation and must operate in, and cope with, all seasons. If it doesn’t, employees will soon view the company’s health and safety regime as having little more than “entertainment value”, leaving them to work out what will happen in any situation.
“Management and the board need to understand how health and safety management system really works and be able to articulate how it works to the benefit of the company,” says Johnson. “Every board should ask for and expect an annual presentation from senior management showing how the organisation’s safety management systems are meaningful, functioning process and not simply concept.”
According to Johnson, measurable results come from best practice health and safety management processes. They include:
• Best practice governance
• Reduced accident associated costs
• Stable industrial relations
• Enhanced employee morale
• Better productivity
• Better employee understanding of their responsibilities
• More positive and supportive attitudes toward the organisation
• Less staff turnover
• More stable and proven management systems
• Greater acceptance and understanding of management systems
• More meaningful audits of management systems
• Greater employee confidence in the organisation
• Evidence that the organisation values its people.
Despite the progress made in 10 years, Johnson still wonders how many employers would consider the health and safety of their people if the law did not tell them to do so. Nevertheless, he sees health and safety management being influenced and improved in future by using realistic job observations and assessments rather than investigating the job after an accident. “Effective realistic business-related job planning linked with the organisation’s health and management systems is the future of health and safety,” he adds.
But some organisations have, he warns, reduced the value of their health and safety management by putting it under the human resources banner. “Health and safety directly affects employees, contractors, consumers and the public through its day-to-day business operations and practices.” To his mind, the health and safety manager should be direct report to the chief executive. Human resources has huge job in its own right without responsibility for trying to manage health and safety as well.
What boards and senior management need to understand is that health and safety is ‘part’ of management and needs to be integrated into and use the existing management systems within the enterprise, says Johnson. “Health and safety management needs to be part of the big picture of business risk management.”

Practical steps
Gavin Johnson is the principal adviser to NZIM on OSH matters and can be reached at [email protected].
He directs the 2006 Diploma programme 2-15 July and national seminar series 28 August-4 September.

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