Workforce engagement is vital for successful health and safety management, and regulators and other organisations devote a lot of space to this topic. However, for the health and safety manager sitting in the middle, the problem can be in the other direction. How do you engage senior management, including board directors, in health and safety?
An engaged workforce will disengage if they don’t see support from the top. An engaged management team will reap benefits all the way down the line.
To help you get your message across, we have come up with these 6 tips for getting your board or other senior leaders to see the value in health in safety.
1. Understand your organisation
This is not just about knowing what type of machinery workers use to make widgets, or how far they drive, or what service they provide. It’s about knowing the market for the product or service. Do you know who your competitors are? Do you know what is changing in the market you operate in? Read company documents on progress and future strategy.
If your organisation is planning to replace a labour-heavy production line with automation in the next three years, your proposal for more ergonomic equipment on the old line won’t have much success. Instead, get in on the planning for the automated line, to build safety and ergonomics in from the start.
2. Find out how and where decisions are made
Although the CEO might be the signature needed for a decision, other people will influence that decision, and many more will impact how the decision is implemented. Consider executive and non-executive directors, specialist functions like HR, IT and facilities, and line management and supervisors.
Find out what each influencer and decision-maker is interested in, and link the changes you are asking for with their existing agendas. The arguments you use will differ for each person, but they need to be consistent and show a single plan. Look for the win-win solution, that gives a benefit to other departments, not just to health and safety.
Seeking engagement from the board shouldn’t be at the expense of engaging the people who do the work. Safety and health strategies work best when the employees and their representatives are involved with decision-making and implementation.
3. Tell a story, create a road map
“I want everyone to report accidents and hazards immediately” is a requirement, but doesn’t explain how you could achieve it. If you are asking for money to be spent on training, on software or on equipment, you need to reassure those holding the purse strings that you are not asking for a blank cheque.
Rather than knocking on the door asking for more money every month, try to plan two years ahead, and prioritise your requests. Which initiatives are essential, which nice to have? Create a high-level plan, or roadmap, starting from where you are, and showing each request as a step that is needed to get to where the organisation needs to be.
Show the value gained at each stage, and reassure them there is an end point. Make sure your road map links clearly to the business plan and strategy for the business.
Where you include costs in your proposals, show you understand the bigger picture. For example, for new equipment as well as the purchase costs, estimate the cost of installation, disruption if plant is out of action during installation and testing, training, ongoing maintenance, and even the cost of disposing of the existing equipment if applicable (or find out if you can get some money back on the old equipment to defray costs).
4 Don’t make threats, but offer benefits
Do not confront the board with threats such as “do this or people will die”. If deaths have happened in your organisation, the board will already be looking for answers. If they haven’t, this will sound like an empty threat.
Instead, explain the benefits of your approach – increased productively, reduced staff turnover, enhanced corporate image, improved times from induction to competence. If you have done steps 1 and 2, you’ll know what the decision-makers and influencers are interested in, and you can link your proposals to their goals. For example, if you’re considering safety elearning, does it have a learning management system that other departments could use for recording classroom and on-the-job training?
Can a hazard reporting system be used to raise issues with facilities and IT support? Can new handling equipment accelerate turn around for production? Will an online system for risk assessments provide greater data security than Word documents on a shared server?
5. Provide the right level of feedback
The board will want some evidence that health and safety is under control. But they don’t want to be overwhelmed with data every week. The data should be a top-level indication of progress, flagging up successes as well as any increasing risks.
A visual display of progress (such as traffic lights or simple graphs) might be easier for senior managers to absorb than a page of numbers. However, don’t get carried away with graphs. Senior leaders want information, not data, so graphs and traffic lights need to be accompanied by a short narrative explaining what the numbers mean.
Find out when important meetings are being held. Sending the health and safety report the week before a quarterly board meeting is likely to be more welcome than a week after.
6. Don’t forget your main goal
It’s tempting when speaking to business managers to turn everything into a return on investment (ROI) decision, but while you do need to consider costs, don’t forget you are there to stand up for health and safety.
If there is a better ROI on making an investment elsewhere than the one you are offering on an OHS investment, why should they back you? There have to be other reasons to do the right thing for safety, health and wellbeing.
While developing a business head, it is essential we keep our health and safety heads on. Considering the practicability of health and safety controls is an essential part of our approach, but there are levels of risk which are unacceptable, regardless of the cost. When you are aware of unacceptable risks, having the evidence and the influencers on your side, and a clear approach, will help you speak truth to power.
Want to learn more about getting your health and safety project off the ground? Download our 'Kickstarting your Health & Safety Software Project' below: