IOSH vice-president Angela Abbs CMIOSH on identifying the skills and knowledge you need to be a superlative OSH professional and lead from the front.
High health and safety standards and a sound health and safety record give business a competitive edge. Investors are attracted by firms showing commitment to sustainability and corporate social responsibility, including caring for and protecting workers. Conversely, poor performance impacts on the bottom line, loses trade – or worse.
Can you positively influence your workplaces to create these high standards?
The IOSH Catch the Wave Campaign centres around putting people first, social sustainability and putting the heart into health and safety.
Investing in workers’ mental and physical welfare provides safety and security, increases staff retention, reduces sick absences and recruitment costs – and raises profits.
So how do OSH professionals help build those high standards?
We have a huge part to play, being in a privileged position with ‘access to all areas’, which brings with it the opportunity to be influencers as well as advisers.
Whether positively engaging with the board, training and influencing managers, speaking to and training workers, we interact at all levels. We can truly find out what’s going on, challenge appropriately, and positively facilitate changes for good.
We must develop a positive culture, get people talking about health and safety, and challenge negativity. Encourage health and safety to be on every business agenda, not just in passing but with a positive message. Have you attended meetings where health and safety comes up on an agenda, then just moves on as ‘nothing to report’? This is the place to celebrate successes, a lack of incidents, and give positive welfare and wellbeing messages.
Duncan Spencer, IOSH head of advice and practice, recently said: ‘We have been shouting safety but whispering health’. I’ve borrowed that – what a great statement!
Let’s start making a lot of noise about health, welfare and wellbeing. Let’s look after the worker as a person and not just provide their safety boots. Care for the whole person, develop them, pay them well, consider their working hours, stress levels, and work/life balance. Provide support for both the physical worker and the emotional being, and they will feel cared for at work, positively impacting on their family and social wellbeing.
So, when we are communicating at any level we need to:
- Brush up on our ‘power skills’ (often called soft skills).
- Use positive, not negative, language.
- Look at what’s gone well and why.
- Talk about the good stuff and resist being critical.
- Facilitate all levels to work together as one big team with health and safety at their core.
After an incident, resist pointing the finger – the person already feels bad. Find out the root causes, yes, but there’s no point in apportioning blame. Better to offer constructive help and advice, ask questions and hear the answers. Understand and be understood. Be supportive, not judgemental. Ask yourself now… do I really do all of that? If not, how can we get there?
The IOSH competency framework will give you a great starting point identifying the skills you need to fully function as an OSH professional. The framework considers 69 competencies across three areas: skills, knowledge and behaviours.
It’s not just about technical knowledge. Without power skills we cannot communicate the technical messages – it’s about interacting with people in a positive way to get the best from them.
Part of the framework is IOSH Blueprint, the self-assessment tool. If you are honest with yourself, it will define what you’re good at, and where you need to improve.
My challenge to you, at whatever stage in your OSH career, is to continue to do what you do well, and improve on what you don’t do quite so well.
Check out the IOSH competency framework, brush up on your power skills, be that positive influencer, put high standards into your workplaces, and put the heart into health and safety.
Angela Abbs, CMIOSH is vice-president of IOSH.