“If you come to work with ten fingers and ten toes, then that’s how we intend to send you home each day.”
That was the oft-uttered phrase of an Operations Manager with whom I worked. It was the foundation of his message to new hires during New Employee Orientation and he repeated it at all staff meetings. Safety mattered.
Most employers are subject to the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act and therefore have what’s termed a “general duty” to provide a workplace that’s free from recognized and serious hazards. The Act is administered by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and most private industries are regulated by OSHA or by an OSHA-approved state system.
Large organizations and/or certain industries may have a dedicated Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) department or may assign HSE responsibilities to their Risk Management department. In smaller organizations the safety function often falls under the HR umbrella. However, a truly effective safety program must be a collaborative effort across departmental and functional boundaries. And regardless of where in an organization HSE responsibilities lie, HR Leaders will bring value as active advisors and partners in workplace safety initiatives. Most HR professionals are skilled at bringing together the key elements of an effective safety program including evaluation of processes and operational activities, adherence to compliance and regulatory requirements and identification of people-driven risks – and the related potential impact in all these areas. This can be accomplished by focusing on several foundational components:
Regulatory and Compliance Oversight
OSHA is part of the US Department of Labor and HR leaders are, naturally, attuned to the happenings at the DOL. Knowledge of federal (plus state and local) health, safety, security, and privacy laws/regulations is a key HR competency and HR professionals are able to ensure merging of all these components in order to ensure alignment with other organizational policies and practices when designing or implementing a workplace safety program.
Effective Program Design
An effective and successful safety program will include strong support and leadership from the management team as well as employee involvement and HR professionals can facilitate this collaboration. HR professionals are also adept at conducting the necessary needs assessment and analysis (i.e. of the worksite and job conditions) and have the foundational understanding of OSHA standards which allows them to assist with the identification of workplace hazards and control systems. Safety programs are often, appropriately or not, tied to rewards or recognition programs. A skilled HR professional will bring an understanding of motivation strategies and can identify the pitfalls in designing a potentially ineffective or counterproductive safety reward/recognition program.
Any workplace safety program must include a corresponding communication plan. Managers and employees need to understand goals, plans and policies as well as their individual roles and responsibilities. An HR professional can identify the appropriate methods and platforms for sharing information and can be a valuable resource when developing accompanying training by bringing an understanding of adult learning processes, training transfer and interpersonal and organizational behavior.
While the elimination, management and reduction of risk is the desired outcome of a workplace safety program, the ultimate goal for organizational leaders is to protect their most important asset – people. A cross-functional, leadership-driven initiative will ultimately lead to greater success in ensuring safe and healthful working conditions.
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