As originally published in Aug14 Industrial Safety News Magazine.
With a background of disappointing national work related injury and death statistics, the NZ government has undertaken a major upgrade to our Health and Safety Legislation, recognising ‘Worker Participation’ as a key enabler. Evidence has shown, improved health & safety and business performance is achieved by building constructive relationships and not just with your workers, but all stakeholders in the supply chain, and especially your customers.
Unfortunately, some business owners and managers appear to have had a knee-jerk reaction to do the bare minimum to legally protect themselves as the new Health and Safety legislation comes into play. Many are missing the opportunity to put in place effective worker participation systems, and realise the potential of this as a tool for improving every aspect of business, not only health and safety.
The BIG question is, ‘How to build constructive relationships?’
Establishing constructive relationships with workers, to manage health and safety, should not be viewed solely as the job of management. The essence of any relationship is “people”, and as such, EVERYONE in an organisation is responsible to mutually agree and develop working relationships.
The controls and scale of initiatives to make relationships effective are different, between the levels of organisation and along the extended value chain (relationships with suppliers, customers, contractors, unions, etc.) but the principles to build constructive relationships remain the same.
THE MANAGERS’ ROLE
Management has the responsibility for Resource and Stakeholder planning, Goal Setting and defining Best Practice behaviours and outcomes. This means ensuring:
The right people are involved
Goals and strategy are communicated in a clear and simple way
Verbalising the value (soft and hard metrics) to be secured in the relationship
Delivering resources to support the relationship holders to define best practice behaviours and outcomes
The skills are available (eg. H+S representatives)
Adherence to existing standards and safeguards
That outcomes of the relationship result in cost-effective and value generating outcomes
Sustainable solutions must define process, metrics and expected stakeholder behaviours
Promoting ownership and accountability of relationship holders
THE WORKERS’ ROLE
Workers contribute to constructive relationships through positive engagement, innovation and open challenge. Workers can best achieve this by:
Bringing real examples to the group to explain issues and conflicts;
Bringing a constructive attitude: participate to improve;
Challenging their colleagues to get best solutions;
Recognising everyone’s ideas together will lead to better solutions; and
Seeking goals and key performance indicators (KPI) when unclear.
Building Constructive Relationships through worker participation gives proven results.
A recent Swedish group study on “Road safety improvement in large companies” showed that working as a group, which results when having constructive relationships, delivers the most effective results. This study focused on how effective various driver incentives and management actions were in reducing road accidents and related costs.
The detailed study showed that using group discussion techniques (a standard outcome of worker participation systems) delivered the greatest improvement in road safety, whilst other methods resulted in a worse situation or in less than best-case improvement.
Characteristics of an organisation which do not have this focus on participation and constructive relationships include; staff feeling isolated, workers consistently over-loaded and more conflicts and interpersonal problems. This results in increased stress and fatigue which leads to absenteeism, increased grievances and errors of judgement and action.
Do you have an accurate sense of how well your business is performing in this area?
Workers should see any workplace changes, as a result of the changing legislation, as the opportunity to share with management all challenges which they face on day today basis. Worker participation results in raising their own profile and influencing business in areas where they would not normally have a voice. It is important however, that workers bring ideas which protect H&S but also go one step further. These conversations are an opportunity to improve process and efficiency in other areas – often with no additional investment required.
Workers should welcome constructive relationships with managers and peers, and make the most by promoting open thinking, sharing challenges and ideas, taking ownership and accountability to resolve. They will shortly find a raise in profile and ability to influence business in other areas, along with decreased stress of having to hide information or deal with unsatisfactory work conditions.
Why not use the event of a change in Health & Safety law and its implications on business as an opportunity to introduce and strengthen constructive relationships in your business, as well as along the value chain (suppliers, contractors, customers, etc). A rush to focus on procedures and training will likely lead to further over-procedurelisation and added stress for workers; rather placing constructive relationships on everyone’s agenda in business, from management to worker level will lead to your business achieving greatest sustainable value.
In summary, a focus on effective worker participation creates safer workplaces and benefits for all:
Business wins with worker engagement leading to innovation;