Companies that go beyond ‘ticking boxes’ to building a culture of safety and health reap benefits far greater than legal compliance. It starts with investing in the training and development of their health and safety representatives.
Occupational safety and health laws in many countries today require that companies appoint safety, health and environment (SHE) representatives in their workplace. Yet some companies still approach this with a 'tick box' attitude; that is, as a legal requirement only. That’s unfortunate, because it suggests to employees that management is worried more about receiving a certificate than about the health and safety of employees and contractors. Moreover, companies that only tick boxes lose out on benefits that skilled and engaged SHE representatives bring to operations.
Obtaining maximum benefit
A company with one thousand employees, for example, might be legally required to appoint 20 employees as SHE representatives. It could either pay them to tick boxes or motivate them to proactively engage colleagues in adopting good practices and making production safer.
If a company takes the proactive approach, they have an additional 20 pairs of eyes on the shop floor that can assist in preventing incidents and injuries. However, to do so, management must invest time and effort into developing these employees.
Training and development
Many companies provide training courses for SHE representatives to ensure they understand their functions and roles under the legal requirements. The content of this training should go beyond simply the legal requirements. A focused training programme (theoretical and practical training, followed by regular coaching) will help to improve their understanding of the company’s site-specific risks and requirements.
It’s more than just inspections
Typically, the primary function of SHE representatives is to conduct inspections of the working areas at predefined frequencies, complete and submit reports, and present findings at health and safety committee meetings. SHE representatives should, however, also be trained in various elements of risk management and the art of coaching employees and contractors on all SHE-related matters.
The training programme should include how to identify safety, health and environmental hazards in the workplace, and provide a better understanding of the site-specific methodology for conducting risk assessments. This should include active participation in risk-assessment sessions on the shop floor.
By doing so, the quality of overall inspections usually improves. Although a reactive control, the company’s methodology for investigating incidents, combined with the various techniques available, should be included in training programmes. Understanding the fundamentals of an effective 'permit to work' is always a good place to start when embarking on an audit. It facilitates an understanding of the task, the associated hazards, and what controls may be necessary.
A permit to work is the last control before work can begin, and therefore SHE representatives need to be well-versed in the fundamentals of a good quality permit to work and audit checks.
Employee and contractor engagement
Talking to people throughout the company is key in the drive to developing an interdependent safety culture. Everyone has a responsibility to look after their own safety, as well as the safety of others.
In support of this, leaders should train employees and contractors to conduct behavioural observations, as well as on the fundamentals of engaging with employees and contractors in a constructive and motivating way. This should include the following six-step process for behavioural auditing:
- Observing before approaching
- Introducing themselves and the purpose of the observation session
- Commenting on positive issues
- Discussing concerns and barriers
- Agreeing on safe methods of doing the task
- Thanking the person for his/her time
Continuous development and encouragement
SHE representatives are often nominated to the position. Leaders therefore have a responsibility to support and encourage their professional development and ability to deliver. Through training, development and recognition, SHE representatives are more likely to enjoy their elected role, excel in it, and progress to SHE professional status.
Developing relevant materials
Finally, to make the role of a SHE representative more relevant and value-adding, companies should develop their own site-specific SHE checklist and audit documents. Customised checklists ensure that people focus on the issues that are specific to their site and area of responsibility, ultimately ensuring a more relevant audit.
Legal compliance is a minimum requirement. Responsible and sustainable companies – companies where people love to go to work – move beyond simple compliance to implement programmes that support employees in understanding and communicating about safety and health, so everybody can go home safely, each and every day.
By moving beyond simple compliance, companies multiply their benefits. This can be achieved through three key areas of intervention: training and coaching; identifying those with potential and interest to become SHE representatives; and ensuring their ongoing professional development.
Brian Darlington is group head of safety and health for Mondi. He is responsible for Mondi’s safety and health strategy at forest operations, mills and plants globally. Brian has more than 30 years of work experience in the field of occupational safety and health.
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