4 Mistakes Leaders Make With Workplace Safety and How You Can Avoid Them

There’s no doubt that leaders, managers, and business owners understand the importance of keeping the people in their employ safe from harm at work. Not only is this legislated in many countries around the world, but workers also certainly expect this to be the case whether they plainly articulate it or not.

Yet, what business leaders actually do about work health and safety is another thing.

From my experience working with leaders and managers to develop safety promotion campaigns, I find that the people who run companies are not always experts in occupational health and safety. Whilst they know about safety, risk management, quality management systems, etc, their core expertise lies elsewhere.

And so it should. To all the business leaders, owners and team managers out there – you do what you do best. Keep it up. But don’t forget these key points when it comes to work health and safety practices.

Remember that even if you’re not the expert, the role you play can make a huge difference when it comes to keeping your people safe and healthy at work.

Mistake number 1 – Lumping it all on one person to ‘manage’

By far, this is the most common mistake out there. The EHS Consultants I work with every day, with decades of experience working with a wide range of organizations, see this one all the time.

Since business owners and leaders know they need to do something about safety, they task it to someone. This can be someone well suited to the task – like a health and safety professional, or someone who knows very little about it, like an office manager. But either way, the problem lies with placing the responsibility of safety on one person’s shoulders, solely, and without support.

Unfortunately, whilst it’s a good step, this approach alone won’t help the business meeting health and safety targets. Further, it probably isn’t enough to keep everyone safe from harm. Why? Because everyone plays a role in keeping a workplace safe.

How can you avoid this mistake?

Make sure that the people who play a central, integral part in managing your health and safety program, and meeting your business targets, are well supported. More on how in a moment.

This leads us nicely into mistake number two.

Mistake number 2 – Forgetting they have a role in safety

Sometimes leaders and managers may believe it’s enough to pass the role onto one person or a team, and then think their job is done.

Sadly, this is not the case. In fact, leaders in any organization play a critical role in the success of workplace health and safety measures. I would even go so far as to say, if leadership is not actively supporting your health and safety practices, then you it is very unlikely that safety is being done effectively.

As a communications professional, I work with businesses to develop internal safety promotion campaigns. And I can say for sure, that you can have the greatest campaign in the world – with a catchy title, greater graphics, the biggest posters about the workplace – but it won’t be all that effective without active leadership endorsement.

Why is this? Well, safety requires everyone to get involved. From spotting and reporting hazards in the workplace, to knowing the evacuation plan in case of an emergency, through to completing inspections.

But it is unlikely that people will take part unless they are aware of what they need to do. And this takes communication from leadership.

People need to be reminded by leadership, regularly, about safety and how everyone needs to get involved. Plus, everyone in every job takes part. This means that leadership ‘leads by example’ taking an active role in safety too.

How can you avoid this mistake?

Stay active when it comes to safety. Bring it up in team meetings. Keep it on the agenda at quarterly reviews. Don’t lose sight of how your organization is tracking, and keep feeding this back to your team. And walk the talk. This will get workers motivated to get involved.

Onto mistake number three.

Mistake number 3 – Under-resourcing safety – both in staffing and tools

Now, we’ve discussed that it’s not a great idea to leave safety management with a single person to handle alone, and that getting everyone in your workplace involved in safety is key.

But I also want to add to this list that properly resourcing safety is imperative. And when I say resourcing – I mean both adequate people-power and useful and smart tools that make managing safety easier.

Often business leaders and managers make the mistake of thinking safety can ‘just happen’ or will magically sort itself out. But this is certainly not how it works.

For your workplace health and safety program to be effective, it must be well resourced. It may sound obvious for such an important part of any business to be properly resourced, but for some reason work health and safety isn’t always regarded in the same way as other functions in a business.

Think about your finance department, your marketing team, or client management experts. These are often areas that we know and understand must be resourced well.

But, please remember, that work health and safety – like any other function of your business – can benefit from extra hands, external advice, smart software, and the latest tools.

Your accounting department used to function with paper based ledgers and desk calculators with paper tape. But not anymore. Now they use software to streamline and speed things up.

Consider the same with safety management.

How can you avoid this mistake?

First, ensure that your safety department isn’t over-worked or chasing their tails. Important safety related issues may be missed if your team is exhausted or has other priorities. Consider getting consulting help in if need be.

Second, online safety management software like Safety Champion Software can greatly reduce the burden of safety management by automating processes, and eliminating the need for your safety managers to be constantly chasing people up, wasting time.

Mistake number 4 – Excluding safety from the core strategy

Finally – and this is a big one – leaders often leave health and safety completely out of the broader strategic direction of their business.

You may be thinking ‘Sure, why would it be in there anyway? What could it possibly add?’.

But, trust me, when workplace health and safety is considered at the highest level, the ability for any business to effectively embed strong health and safety practices – ones that actually reduce the risk of harm to workers and keep everyone safer – is significantly increased.

It’s like anything else that forms a part of your strategy and planning. If it’s in there, with goals and targets alongside, it will be addressed over time.

I find that when it’s missing, my ability to design a great, meaningful internal communications campaign promoting the importance of safety doesn’t work as well when it’s not a well established part of the overall strategy.

That high level strategy will inform your decisions in hiring, position descriptions, team structure, and general human resources management. It will find its way into team planning, goal setting, focus areas and accountabilities.

But if you omit safety, it’s won’t be remembered. As your strategy trickles down, it’s unlikely safety will be even a passing thought in the minds of your team leaders and departments. It will not be a focus.

And this isn’t what you want. Especially when you are talking about the mental and physical health of your workers.

How can you avoid this mistake?

Put simply, if you – as the leader of your business or organization – make a concerted effort to place safety firmly within your broader strategy, your business and your people will see the benefits.

So there you have it – my top four mistakes you could make as a leader when it comes to safety. But also some great tips for how you can avoid making these mistakes.

To be frank, in just opening this blog post, you’re probably ahead of rest and you can already see the value of supporting safety as a leader.

But keep it going from here. Check in with your safety team and see what they need. Discuss their challenges, and ensure they’re well resourced. Keep the conversation going with the broader team – make sure they know that safety is a priority for the business and that it’s important they are involved. And finally, start to think about the ways you can embed safety into your overall business strategy. After all, a safe and healthy team, is a productive and happy team.

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