Six Mistakes Top Management can make

“Management is nothing more than motivating other people” – Lee Iacocca.

The ISO 45001 Leadership and Commitment Clause 5.1 highlights two subtle but key issues that must be demonstrated by top management:

  • Supporting other relevant management roles to demonstrate their leadership as it applies to their areas of responsibility (paragraph i), and
  • Developing, leading, and promoting a culture in the organization that supports the intended outcomes of the health and safety management system (paragraph j).

No person or manager is perfect, and despite our best intentions we often make mistakes that can have a big impact on what our team thinks about how much we care about their occupational health and safety. Ask yourself if you are or have been making any of the six mistakes listed below when it comes to setting an occupational health and safety example to those around you.

 “The way you see them is the way you treat them and the way you treat them is the way they often become” - Zig Ziglar.

Not Walking the Talk – Statement j

Actions do speak louder than words when it comes to occupational health and safety management.

All the slogans, posters, and toolbox talks’ in the world will not make a difference if employees see managers acting in a different way to what they are saying. By always being a model of safe work and rule compliance, a manager can have more of an influence on his team than he ever could through “health and safety moments” and “monthly health and safety topics”.

People naturally look to their manager for direction, and the aspects they look at most are behaviors. As a manager, you must go above and beyond what is required by your site health and safety systems and demonstrate to everyone that keeping people healthy and safe is at the top of your priority list.

I often get the answer back from workers that OHS matters only until production targets become an issue – then it is produced first and OHS is pushed back to second, third, or even last priority.

Turning a Blind Eye – Statement j

Health and safety rules and systems apply to everyone, all the time!

When we ignore minor breaches or small unsafe acts and unsafe conditions, we are effectively condoning those actions. By our own lack of action, we are telling our team that it is acceptable not to follow certain rules or procedures. You cannot turn a blind eye, even when the work is urgent, out of sight, or on a night shift.

Unacceptable behaviors are best corrected early on, while they are still small, and before they become a habit. Be careful of setting the example that may evolve into a “production before safety” culture.

Not Giving Enough Positive Feedback – Statement j

While it is important to let people know if they are not working safely or following the correct procedures, it is also important to give people positive feedback when you find them working according to requirements or doing things that promotes workplace safety.

When was the last time that you have given positive feedback to any of your employees? Did you notice an improvement in the attitude and production output of this individual?

We tend to emphasize the negative more than the positive and this may have consequences. 

If we want the morale of the workers to improve, we need to start paying compliments where they are due. This will have a positive impact on the health and safety culture. When I interview top management and ask them the question “How do you celebrate OHS success in your organization?” the answer I often receive is that they do not.

Giving positive feedback is easy to do and the positive results always outstrip the effort of doing so.

Not Buying into OHS Management Systems – Statement i

As a manager in the organization, you need to buy into health and safety systems, even if you do not like it or do not agree with how the system works.

Any feedback you have about the OHS management system and why they will not work needs to be discussed with your superior in a positive environment to contribute to continual improvement. When it comes to the message you send to the team that works with you - you need to be a supporter. As a team leader, you are the company’s representative. For better or worse the organization has decided to implement this OHS management system, so it is your responsibility to support it publicly.

When I conduct an audit, it is easy to identify the areas where there is poor support from managers. It is usually the area where I find the most nonconformances or a negative attitude towards the auditing process.

Forgetting the Importance of Habits – Statement i

Habits can save us when our mind is not concentrating on the activity we are performing.

Many of the health and safety systems we use - such as Take-5s, prestart talks, and health and safety observations - are aimed at creating behavior routines that assist us to be constantly aware of hazards in the work environment, and help us to react appropriately when we see something that is about to harm us.

Every little action and health and safety discussion might not prevent an incident by itself, but they all work together to create valuable health and safety habits. When you are repeating the same training or talk for the millionth time about a specific health and safety topic – do not think that you are wasting time and money. When there is an incident, it will probably be these repetitive sessions that will help prevent harm or loss.

Induction training often becomes a neglected activity. Many times, during audits, I will find workers that have been employed for 5 or more years who only received induction training when they started. They do not receive regular health and safety reinforcement, updates on workplace risk profile changes, or hear about health and safety legislation updates.

Doing OHS Observations for the wrong reasons – Statement j

Performing health and safety observations with the correct intentions can add considerable value, not only to the activity but also to workplace health and safety culture.

When observing people performing their work, the aim should be to find ways to give them constructive feedback which keeps them on their toes, positive, and challenges them to put workplace health and safety first. We want to challenge people to make sure they know what they are doing and how to do it in a healthy and safe manner.

You should never perform observations to catch people doing something wrong. The approach should be fact-finding and not fault-finding. A positive approach to observations can present an opportunity to “sell” the advantages of a pro-active OHS management and risk identification approach.

We can only do this if we engage with workers continually and not only after an incident has occurred. By observing work activities and doing internal audits, we are implementing a continual OHS improvement process.

“Good management consists in showing average people how to do the work of superior people” – John D Rockefeller.

In Summary

As a manager with occupational health and safety responsibilities, you can positively influence the organization’s health and safety culture – or not. The things that you do and say will impact how the people reporting to you manage their own health and safety.

Your influence is so important to the success of your organization’s health and safety management system that ISO 45001 defines the parameters of your actions in support of this objective in Clause 5.1.

Are you setting the correct example as their manager?

“Management’s job is to convey leadership’s message in a compelling and inspiring way. Not just in meetings, but also by example” - Jeffrey Gitomer.

Guest Writer: Christel Fouche

To get in contact with Christel Fouche: 

LinkedIn: Christel Fouche




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