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Safety taking a seat in the Boardroom

The concept of visible, senior leadership of health and safety governance is to ensure organisations maximise their performance and lead beyond mere compliance. Although the value represented at board level is recognised, often safety still largely acts and moves like a non-strategic function. Many organisations struggle to translate health and safety into tangible actions and values. Failing to ask the correct questions from their management team, reviewing safety’s objectives and outcomes, challenging dialogue about the developments of safety and leading safety excellent throughout the organisation.

Board members can often be geographically, mental and physically distant from the operational day to day activities, therefore the emphasis of safety is set by their influence, tone and culture. Safety needs to be more than a vision statement or annual reviews of safety performance.

The concept of safety governance is about ensuring that the Board have the tools, knowledge and structures in place to lead, discuss, challenge, set objectives and monitor safety activities.

Talk about safety as a board-level issue

Part of the challenge is ensuring Board members are fully informed of the risks to the business and must be able to frame safety in terms that adequately articulate those risks.

  • What are our key risks to the business?
  • What are the implications to the business if we continue our current level of performance?
  • What level of compliance are we striving to achieve?
  • What is our current performance level?
  • What can we learn from other safety organisations?

These types of questions are critical to support the Board members to ask stretching questions.

Ideally safety should be a regular feature of Board meetings and should be at the top of the agenda, not in the AOB section. Representatives of the organisation who can interpret and communicate activities should be present to answer Board members questions and engage with any actions from the Board.

Create a vision

An essential element of any successful safety culture is having a vision of what is to be achieved, the ability to publicly articulate shared safety goals that resonate across all levels of an organisation.

  • What does safety excellence look/feel like?
  • Is safety aligned with the organisation’s values, goals and beliefs?

Demonstrating vision will inspire others, set high standards for safety behaviours and encourage commitments from others.

Introduce a strategic framework

The right framework provides a system for understanding, measuring, and mapping the maturity of every element of the business that drives performance. The framework should answer questions such as drivers of safety performance, non-compliance, continuous improvement etc. A good framework helps the board track the nature and context of risk, as well as the organisation's progress in mitigating it.

  • What practical changes can be made in the organisation to make a difference?
Review the organisation’s performance

Board members should review proactive (training, near miss reports, audit results) and reactive data (accident/incidents, breakdowns), culture surveys, etc with the intention to understand the impact on the business.

  • Do we understand the statistics presented in the safety performance reports?
  • How does safety measure, monitor and sustain these improvements?
  • Do we challenge safety statistics?
  • How does our performance compare to other organisations?
Joining the conversation

The tangible actions of Board members reinforce the values of safety across the organisation, this can be achieved by a number of activities:

  • Personal commitment – Creating a personal goal to engage in safety, as an example regularly conducting health and safety tours, sponsoring a particular safety topic or activity or leading a project to integrate safety into the organisation.
  • Transparency – Board members to demonstrate transparency through formal and informal communications, which celebrate safety successes, as well as openly communicate safety challenges as they emerge.
  • Decision making - Board members to ensure safety concerns are heard and employees are included in the safety planning process. Practically, this may include such things as establishing a board committee focused on safety; ensuring regular, robust and meaningful safety reporting of company safety performance.
  • Think strategically – Board members to think strategically about safety and not just as a source of statistical analysis, but as a ‘informed leadership team’. Understanding control methods and systems so they can identify whether their organisation’s systems are appropriate.