Most employers’ and senior managers’ time is taken up with deciding on the best way forward for their businesses during the coming period. They generally do this either formally or informally, with reference to an overall strategy or plan. What successful businesses do not do however, is to respond only to external influences.
Most employers’ and senior managers’ time is taken up with deciding on the best way forward for their businesses during the coming period. They generally do this either formally or informally, with reference to an overall strategy or plan. What successful businesses do not do however, is to respond only to external influences. Successful companies are proactive in their business planning rather than reactive. Businesses that rely on a reactive approach tend not to last because it is only a matter of time before events overtake them and they reach a point where they cannot deal with the circumstances in which they find themselves.
Key strategic functions
Any business strategy will set out the overall aims and objectives for the business, and identify the key strategic functions that must be dealt with in order to achieve them. Finance, purchasing, production, and distribution are just a few examples of these functions. Most senior managers would recognise these functions and would accept the need to address them as critical business issues. Successful businesses have plans that incorporate them into one whole strategy that sets out performance indicators against which progress can be measured. They understand the old adage, what gets measured, gets done! The question is how can these methods be rolled out to other organisations, large and small, so that they can reap the same benefits of systematic management? It would be useful if there were a ready-made framework for managing that managers could use. In fact of course, such things do exist as anyone familiar with quality management for example would know.
They will have seen how Quality Circles are one way of developing a cycle for continuous improvement in the production and/or supply of goods and services. Japanese methods for systematic management and production that were so successful during the 1980’s and early 1990’s, are further examples of the potential that proactive, management methods offer. The benefits are not just available to large organisations however. Small companies can also effectively use systematic methods; it is simply that their systems will be far less complex than those of their bigger brothers!
So what has all this to do with health and safety at work? Firstly, effective health and safety management can make a major contribution to the profitability of any organisation. Working safely for example, correlates directly with efficiency, productivity, and the avoidance of losses and waste. Health and safety must therefore be considered as a strategic function alongside those of finance, purchasing and distribution etc mentioned earlier. In other words it is something that must be managed and incorporated into the overall business strategy. Systematic management is therefore just as important in health and safety as it is elsewhere, and this means that we need a system to work with.
Fortunately, we do not have to keep reinventing the wheel here because such systems already exist; all we have to do is to tailor them to our own needs.
A five-stage management system
In its book, Successful Health and Safety Management, UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends a five-stage management system. This system has been adopted throughout industry and commerce because it is effective in any kind of business, and it is compatible with the ISO 18001 standard. Its great strength lies in its simplicity and its usefulness to companies regardless of their size and the nature of their business. The system can be adapted to suit particular circumstances, and so the exact form and degree of complexity will vary from company to company. Essentially, it provides the framework discussed earlier which can help to reassure companies that they are dealing with all the issues that confront them.
The system works in the following way. Firstly we decide on what it is that we want to achieve, for example that accidents and ill-health will be reduced to the lowest level possible, and below the national level for our business sector. We then develop roles and responsibilities for staff in order that they can contribute to the delivery of the overall aims and objectives. This may mean that some staff require training in order to perform the roles assigned to them.
Next we decide what practical measures have to be taken to achieve success, and in health and safety, risk assessment is one of the principal methods we use to do this. We then proceed to implement the actions we have identified as being necessary. We might for example implement a new work method, or begin to actually use any safeguards that have been introduced. Now that things are beginning to happen there has to be a process for monitoring the success of our efforts and the contribution we are making to the achievement of overall policy aims.
Monitoring might include such things as checking noise levels, health surveillance, and examining accident statistics in our companies. Finally, rather than simply plough on regardless of whether or not we are succeeding, we must pause to review our experiences and make some judgements about the suitability of the measures we have developed,- did our great ideas work?! Taking this a stage further, we can then carry out a full audit of the management system, asking ourselves some searching questions about our effectiveness at each stage. The results will enable us to reassess our policies if necessary, and move around the circle again, which over time will become a mechanism for continual improvement.
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