In a series of articles we explore specific clauses within the international standard ISO 45001:2018 ‘Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems’, clarifying some of the requirements of the clauses and highlighting some potential pitfalls. In this article we consider the aspects of Clause 5 ‘Leadership and Worker Participation’. If an organisation gets this right, they will enjoy the fruits of a positive and collaborative workplace culture.
Bringing Top Management and Workers Together
In the context of leadership there is a heavy emphasis on ‘top management’ involvement. But who are top management? They are defined as the people who direct and control the organisation. Typically these are senior executives who strategically direct long-term company policy and aspirations. They have the power to delegate authority of course but retain ultimate responsibility for their actions (or inactions). The buck stops here. In this respect top management takes overall responsibility and accountability for the prevention of work-related injury and ill-health and for the provision of safe and healthy workplaces.
The broad principles of preventative action should be enshrined in the organisation’s occupational health and safety (OH&S) policy and the occupational health and safety management system (OHSMS). Both should be compatible with the strategic direction of health and safety in the organisation and integrated into the organisation’s business processes. Both should be ratified and supported by top management.
It is important that top management promotes a positive culture of OH&S within the organisation. They need to be visible as key players. This can be demonstrated on many levels; by active engagement with the workforce, supporting and attending health and safety meetings, and communicating the importance of effective OH&S management at every available opportunity. It is important to note that executives not directly associated with OH&S still have roles to play. As an example, those in control of budgets and procurement have obligations to source competent and safe service-providers. No executive should state they have no responsibilities for OH&S. They should be aware, responsive and offer active support.
Top management needs to demonstrate a commitment to the elimination of hazards, risk reduction and compliance with relevant legal requirements – as laid down in the legal register. In this respect the assistance of Red-On-Line regulatory content will be invaluable to you.
Leadership is not the sole prerogative of top management. Workers at each level of the organisation should assume responsibility for those aspects of the OH&S management system over which they have control. Supervisors and managers have a pivotal role in local leadership, conveying and maintaining the aims and objectives of the OH&S policy. They too need to visibly demonstrate a commitment to the elimination of hazards, risk reduction and compliance. Their own actions, for good or bad, will influence the behaviours of those that see them.
A culture that supports an organization’s OH&S management system is largely determined by the interaction of top management, supervisory management, and workers, being the product of their individual and group values.
A process for the consultation and participation of workers and, where they exist, workers’ representatives, should be established within the OH&S policy. Remember that consultation is a dialogue and an exchange between those involved. Whether via safety representatives,
safety committees or representatives of employee safety, any measures agreed should be implemented and maintained.
Effective worker participation goes beyond consultation. Sometimes the challenge is to show that frontline workers have actively participated in the OH&S process. Their contribution to decision-making risk assessments is helpful in this context. Workers should be encouraged to report incidents, hazards, and risks, and be protected against reprisals. Participation can be stymied by obstacles or barriers such as the threat of dismissal or disciplinary action. Such barriers need to be removed or minimised. Auditor question to workers might be framed as ‘do you feel empowered to intervene?’
The takeaways from this article are:
- Leadership and commitment from top management is critical for the success of the OH&S management system.
- Those working closest to the risks must be actively involved in managing those risks.
- Worker participation is an inclusive process which should result in a stronger ‘buy-in’ by the workforce to any changes.