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The Four Rights of Safety

Posted by Peter Attwood on 10 June 2016


The Four Rights of Safety - People, Skills, Systems and Culture

Improving Occupational Health and Safety has never been about a single approach producing a good outcome. The improvements in safety are always the end result of systematically improving every aspect of an organization. There are also real financial benefits of improving Occupational Health and Safety as research shows that OHS outcomes can be a good predictor of economic outcomes and for listed ASX companies; this translates into a 25% appreciation of share value against comparable companies with poor OHS outcomes.

A key component of that approach is ensuring that you have the right people. This means that the people engaged should be professionally qualified and experienced and have the right approach to communication and personal skills. OHS is an area of a business that needs to be managed and there needs to be clearly measured performance outcomes. Employment of unqualified or under-qualified staff is likely to result in a decrease in the compliance and quality of the OHS management systems. Deficiencies in the quality of internal advice often become readily apparent after a serious incident (including near misses). Organizations with a commitment to getting the right people also need to develop those people with appropriate professional development programmes and on-going opportunities for mentoring and career enhancement.

In tough economic times, training and skills acquisition is one of the first areas to be reduced or cutback. In practical terms, this is exactly the area where up-skilling should be occurring for supervisors and managers so that they are able to manage the OHS systems, policies and procedures in a competent and appropriate way. Understanding of procedures is a common fault in assessing compliance with the legislation or corporate objectives. Most managers will follow the policy guidelines and procedures if they are informed about the policies and they understand how they apply to every day management of staff. Sharing of knowledge and information within an organization about the organization's policies and procedures is important to achieve a consistent and effective result. Decisions outside of the corporate policy framework have been a factor in a number of deaths within Gippsland over the past 21 years.

Companies need to have a robust system which reflects the current work practices and provides the opportunity for continuous improvement. All systems degrade over time and this requires constant vigilance and monitoring. The rigor of this process is critical and hence the reason that all management systems have a requirement for scheduled internal and external auditing. Much system auditing deteriorates over time to tick and flick processes which lack the rigor or attention to detail required to ensure that the systems are maintained. Systems need to be challenged and reviewed in order to be effective.

Much is said about culture and it simplifies down to roles and responsibilities and communication between staff. There are intrinsic factors such as trust within the organization; positivity; integrity associated with decisions and management and respect for all members within the organization. Of all the areas to improve, the culture is one of the hardest to influence and it is a slow and gradual process. Culture is the hardest to quantify and measure objectively. It is also the easiest to affect in a negative way and it is in a constant state of change.

The four rights of safety (People, Skills, Systems and Culture) are fundamental to any manager or supervisor. It is really useful for senior management to use a safety dashboard of indicators to monitor how they are managing safety overall. Indicators commonly used such as Lost Injuries or first aid treatments are lag indicators and are useful to identify trends but not specific areas of improvement. Lead indicators can be the results of audits, safety culture surveys or how staff see the organization, skills and professional development goals or implementation of Safety Plans or programmes. The on-going management review of those processes (which are critical to safety) and measurement of the organization's progress against the organization's stated targets and objectives is a common area which has been identified as an area for improvement in many OHS audits.

HAZCON is uniquely placed to provide quality audits and work on developing management plans based on best practice and compliance to the extensive legislative framework. We can also provide a gap analysis which provides an accurate picture of an organization's OHS systems and how they can get it absolutely right.


The Professionals in HSE

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Author:Peter Attwood
Tags:Peter Attwood


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