Why Occupational Health and Safety is the Senior Management’s Job


Few people like to deal with occupational health and safety (OHS) unless they absolutely have to. After all, the main point of occupational health and safety management systems (OH&SMS) is to prevent and mitigate, not to actively cause something to happen. As long as these systems work as intended, their benefits can be quite difficult to spot. This can make the task of convincing your company’s decision-makers to invest into an OH&SMS quite an ordeal.

Surprisingly enough, it’s not always the senior management who has trouble seeing past the initial effort of investing into an OH&SMS. After all, every company is legally obligated to meet at least basic standards of health and safety and most organisations stop there. Once you try to go beyond the absolute minimum, you hit an almost impenetrable wall of bureaucracy and apathy on the part of your H&S officers.

This is regrettable, considering that strong safety cultures bear benefits that go way beyond ensuring the minimal well-being of employees.

OH&SMS implementation has to begin with a strong argument.

You’ve probably heard the following statements quite a few times. If you’re a member of senior management, there’s a good chance you’ve used a similar excuse at least once.

  • “We have other things to worry about than implementing a health and safety management system.”
  • “Spending money on OH&SMS is unnecessary, as we already follow the H&S laws.”
  • “Why should we spend money on improving H&S?”

I like to think that improving health and safety at companies is like campaigning against climate change. Most of the time, nothing outside the ordinary can be seen by the naked eye. Summers are still hot, winters are clad in snow, workers are able to do their jobs just fine. Even when a catastrophe occurs, most people see it as a random accident, not a symptom of deeper structural problems. Consequently, no action is taken in order to prevent these incidents from happening. But then the catastrophe reoccurs because its causes were never really understood in the first place.

It’s no wonder that any effort to disrupt this vicious circle must begin with developing a strong argument. In other words, if you want to improve occupational health and safety in your company, you need to understand all the benefits such improvement brings. Only then you can make a convincing case for investing into OH&SMS.

It’s not up to H&S officers to implement OH&SMS.

What you’re about to read will probably sound a bit counterintuitive but — it’s not up the company’s H&S officers to implement an H&S policy. Sure, they’ll take care of the technicalities but at the end of the day, it’s an important business decision. Such decisions can only be made by senior management.

When you take a look at the most cited benefits of investing into an occupational health and safety policy, most of them go far beyond simply protecting your employees. According to the EU-OSHA, occupational health and safety:

  • Helps demonstrate that your business is socially responsible.
  • Protects and enhances brand image and brand value.
  • Helps maximise the productivity of workers.
  • Enhances employees’ commitment to the business.
  • Builds a more competent, healthier workforce.
  • Reduces business costs and disruption.
  • Enables enterprises to meet customers’ OSH expectations.
  • Encourages the workforce to stay longer in active life.
  • Maintains and promotes investor confidence.
  • Develops positive stakeholder engagement.

This list suggests that to leave all things OHS-related in the hands of your H&S officers is to miss out on a wealth of opportunity. Sure, they’ll make sure that you comply with all the legal standards. However, if you want to reap the benefits outlined above, OH&SMS will have to work hand in hand with the overarching business strategy. If you’re in a managerial position, remember that your task is to lead and set standards for others to follow. Don’t hesitate to take leadership in H&S too.