Health And Safety Morals And The Importance Of Leadership

Exploring the increasing need for business leaders to morally maintain and continually improve their health and safety management performance.

With the publication of the Governments Deregulation Bill in July 2013 which aims to free UK business of red tape, Philip Jones, Technical Director with Quantum Compliance, explores the increasing need for business leaders to morally maintain and continually improve their health and safety management performance.

There are some business leaders on one side of this argument who use deregulation as justification for ‘easing up’ on their health and safety management activities.  Whilst there are some examples of good business reasoning behind some deregulation in certain lower risk businesses, this approach certainly does not fit all business sectors and situations.

The case for ‘easing up’ has been and continues to be fuelled by the media, and indeed some business commentators, who continue to recycle one-sided news stories to justify occupational health and safety deregulation. This has resulted in concerns that some business leaders are using the deregulation agenda as justification for not correctly embedding health and safety management within their businesses.  Unfortunately, mention those three words (health and safety) in conversation and you risk being met with a ‘tut’ or a ‘roll of the eyes’ response, which in part can be put down to the negativity which newspapers and the media in general attribute to health and safety. Indeed, much has been written about the way the media has often poorly presented health and safety decisions which in turn has led to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) robustly defending sound health and safety judgments and at the same time, criticizing unreasonable or disproportionate outcomes.

This leads to the core of the argument which focusses on individual business leaders and in particular, what drives their moral stance on protecting the health and safety of their employees.  Against this backdrop of deregulation, a business leader needs to increasingly rely on his / her own moral compass in making compliance decisions for their organisations.

Trying to understand why some business leaders have sided with the deregulators is complex as everyone has different experiences upon which to draw. However, it is likely that one such experience would include attending a health and safety training course at some time whereby the trainer would predictably present the benefits of good and the costs of poor health and safety management.  Unfortunately, the moral arguments of maintaining and improving health and safety standards would probably have been underplayed which in itself, represents a very important area for health and safety trainers and practitioners to focus on in future.

For those business leaders who do indeed support the moral argument for maintaining and improving health and safety standards, then they have got some work to do.  They will actually need to lead health and safety by:
  • Motivating managers and staff;
  • Executing effective training programmes with efficient follow ups and reviews; and
  • Successfully influencing all stakeholders.

In effectively leading health and safety, business leaders must also strive to develop a sound health and safety culture within their organisations – one which:

  • Self-polices i.e. where staff are comfortable with challenging and being challenged;
  • Develops unspoken expectations and perceptions; and one in which
  • Health and safety is not labeled as a priority as priorities change – health and safety should be embedded.
To support and illustrate the essentials of effective health and safety leadership, the HSE has published a number of case studies on their website. In addition, there is guidance available and the joint HSE – Institute of Directors (IOD) publication ‘Leading health and safety at work’ is still relevant. This publication suggests the adoption of a four point agenda for company boards to consider including core actions and practical ways of delivering the plan under the well known Plan – Do – Act – Check headings.
So in conclusion, business leaders must guard against purely relying on the decreasing list of regulations to determine their health and safety standards and management activities.  Whilst compliance is important for any business, when pressure is being brought to bear on reducing the list of legislation, business leaders should increasingly decide for themselves on the direction of health and safety management, based on moral arguments for maintaining and improving the health and safety performance of the organisations they own or represent.  Business leaders who understand the moral argument and can effectively motivate and influence their staff will ultimately be best placed to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of their staff and businesses into the future.
Phil Jones – Technical Director – Quantum Compliance

About the Author: Phil is a Chartered Member of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health and is one of the founding partners of Quantum Compliance.
About Quantum Compliance: Quantum Compliance was established in 2003 by like-minded risk management professionals who believe in providing innovative outsourced compliance services to portfolio management organisations including health and safety, fire safety, water safety, data management software, asbestos surveys, training, and environmental consultancy.

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