Improving safety management systems begins with workers

Strengthening internal responsibility system sets solid safety foundation

Most organizations revise their safety management policies and procedures annually, making appropriate changes that have been identified through reviews or audits. They often call this process a continuous improvement plan.

This approach is typically focused on assessing the organization’s safety model — which can be a behaviour- or risk-based system — and then correcting any deficiencies preventing them from achieving their goals.

But what about the people involved with the safety management system?

Organizations that want to improve safety performance must not overlook the people factor. An organization can have the best health and safety management system on paper, but without employee interactions, it will not meet its objectives or goals.

The people component of the management system is called the organization’s internal responsibility system (IRS). It’s a duty-based system that relies on the knowledge and participation of everyone in the organization to address safety in the workplace.

The main purpose of the IRS is to build upon the safety management system by delineating the necessary level of authority, responsibility and accountability for all employees in the organization. This enables the organization to incorporate the required people skills that will support its management system.

If the workers are to make a difference in improving the overall safety performance, the organization must ensure the workers understand their roles and responsibilities with respect to the management system. Workers need to be held accountable for meeting those objectives.

The IRS must include all contributory groups, both internal and external, that interact with the organization.

Merely stating the requirements to employees will not be enough. The organization must be clear on its expectations (verbal and written), observe its workers in the field and assist them in modifying the behaviours that are counterproductive in achieving better safety performance.

This is where having excellent communications will enable an organization to build trust with its workforce. Ensure the organization says what it means, that it takes its employee ideas into consideration, that it is committed to improving the situation and that it is able to do what it promised.

Integrating the IRS with the safety management system will not only allow the organization to achieve its goals but it will also influence its safety culture by creating a behavioural shift from within.

Of course, the real benefit of fostering people skills in an organization is building a co-operative relationship amongst the employees that will enable them to be respected and engaged.

Guy Chenard is a senior health and safety advisor for Ontario Power Generation. He can be contacted at [email protected] or (519) 431-1241.

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