Morocco has been hailed for its response to COVID. Mohamed-Amine Zahr TechIOSH explores how good social dialogue helped, why it’s so important to OSH and how to do it.
To celebrate the World Day for Safety and Health at Work this year, the International Labour Organization (ILO) chose to research the topic of ‘Enhancing social dialogue towards a culture of safety and health, based on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis’.
We’ve all seen how preventive health and safety and contingency plans – implemented by organisations in close collaboration with social partners and competent authorities – have helped curb the spread of the pandemic and enabled business continuity. In particular, Morocco has been acclaimed for its management of the pandemic and its approach to mitigating the economic and social impacts.
Early in the pandemic, the General Confederation of Moroccan Companies – together with major representatives from the private sector, as well as public authorities, social partners and institutions – released a practical guide on COVID-19 preventive and health measures based on World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations. The aim was to help small- and medium-sized organisations ensure a better gradual return to normal activity after the lockdown, outlining employers’ and workers’ duties.
The media has also played a key and proactive role in influencing citizens by publicising measures and rules in the workplace and beyond. Meanwhile, the Moroccan government has created several laws regarding mask-wearing, lockdown and the health emergency. Police, auxiliary forces, fire departments, the Red Crescent, local authorities and the army all worked together to implement preventive measures while boosting awareness, enforcing laws and managing emergency situations.
Committees involving the health and labour ministries and local authorities conducted random workplace inspections across the country. Some offices, plants, construction sites and factories were closed until they proved the premises were safe for workers and contractors.
I’m proud of the renewable energy sector’s response to the pandemic: we acted quickly, and the strong health and safety culture on our sites made it easier to manage the crisis and to continue to supply 37 million Moroccans with green energy.
Key success factors at renewable sites included the following: evolving a preventive system, implemented when the pandemic was announced; putting crisis committees in charge of steering and monitoring on sites; effectively managing key resources to ensure business continuity; holding daily stakeholder awareness sessions; and continuously coordinating with local authorities and social partners on screening, inspections, management of suspected cases, and so on.
Clearly, joint efforts and an inclusive management system promoting social dialogue are fostering a positive OSH culture that preserves workers’ health and safety during crises as well as in normal conditions.
We acted quickly, and the strong health and safety culture on our sites made it easier to manage the crisis
Critical factors for success
Although Morocco’s involvement of social partners was inspired by established legal requirements and standards (such as ISO 45001), few organisations are aware of the critical success factors (CSFs) for effective involvement of social partners in the management of OSH.
According to research from the GB Health and Safety Executive, Health and Safety Laboratory, RoSPA, IOSH and the Energy Institute, the main CSFs are:
- Attitudes and behaviours: in particular, leadership, commitment and trust between management and staff
- Skills and knowledge: in particular, through continuous training and awareness-raising, relevant information and supervision
- Means and resources: including time to participate in initiatives, finances, human resources as well as encouraging and rewarding high-performing workers
- Communication: especially bottom-up, promoting dialogue and avoiding a culture of blame and reprisals
- Cultural differences: language barriers and other factors that may affect working in a spirit of partnership.
This is likely to be more relevant when moving from reactive OSH management systems to proactive ones, as many organisations did after witnessing the benefits of investing in preventive OSH in a changing world that is requiring businesses to be resilient and sustainable.
When moving to a proactive OSH system, it is important that management is aware of the potential impacts on social partners. Practical difficulties needing to be overcome include:
- Increasing workload and stress for workers due to training on procedures, policies and safe systems
- Excessive workload for those in charge of implementing the system – for example, performing risk assessments, attending safety meetings, providing training, writing new procedures
- Resistance to change by managers and workers, which could cause conflict
- Lack of supervision of workers training for the change and the new duties, roles and responsibilities within the new management system.
Planning should start at the top of an organisation but should encourage participation at all levels. There should be clear objectives as to what proposed changes will achieve, provided by measures such as cost-benefit analyses.
Setting up steering groups and working parties is key to success. Steering groups should consist of directors and heads of departments and give broad objectives, set timescales and meet approximately every three months. Working parties should meet monthly and consist of middle management, first-line supervisors and worker reps. It will carry the ‘message’ to the workforce and provide feedback.
The working party chair should also be part of the steering party; the role is generally filled by the health, safety and environment (HSE) manager, who can act as the link between the two groups. The pace of change should be dictated by the working party’s feedback.
Senior management need to show a clear commitment to safety by their actions, providing resources from the outset. Creating a safety champion is important in influencing workers. Champions should ensure the safety aspects of the changes receive appropriate resources and attention.
Cultural change is not only the responsibility of management; there must also be commitment from employees, who must recognise the need for change. Performance measurement can be introduced to encourage greater interest and involvement from employees in health and safety. Improvements in performance can be linked to an incentive scheme – but accident/incident rates should not be,
as this can lead to under-reporting.
Plans for the transition should be carefully and regularly reviewed to ensure risk exposure is not increased during the programme. The tasks and workload generated by the change should also be assessed. The support of external consultants can help here. Good team-working should be maintained and encouraged with rewards and incentives to promote a positive OSH culture. Training
and workshops on team-working can be provided.
Cultural change will not happen overnight; the transition may take years. Avoid making too many simultaneous or unnecessary changes, and ensure there is time to adapt and modify the plan; this also allows time for the changes to become part of the established culture.
Conflicts should be anticipated. Proactive OSH management means that a number of parties will have responsibility for health and safety rather than centralised with management and HSE teams. Critical tasks should be analysed to ensure all of them can be carried out under the new proactive system and that none will be missed during the transition. This should include a skills analysis of each worker so that training deficiencies can be identified at an early stage and actions taken.
HSE teams need to mentor and work impartially with all parties to maximise OSH performance. Different groups can have different opinions and different agendas. Some may focus on cost and timescales, while others may be reluctant to adopt safer practices that they perceive to be slower, or to spend time on paperwork and activities such as safety meetings that HSE teams consider essential.
HSE teams will often need to negotiate between parties to maintain balance and ensure all are happy. This is not easy, and is why top management commitment and leadership is necessary. Training on conflict management at the planning stage may therefore be helpful.
Consultation should take place to ensure buy-in from workers and representatives and to gather feedback to highlight any concerns before changes are implemented. Some issues may not have been anticipated, and risk assessments can then be updated accordingly.
Feedback is crucial to ensure any changes are working successfully. It will enable management to evaluate the new processes and fine-tune them where necessary. Steering committees and working parties can be excellent forums for building trust in the workforce, as they provide an invaluable method to allow all voices to be heard.
Training and supervision
As workers move into their new roles, any additional training needed should be provided. This could include training on safe work systems, safety performance monitoring (leading and lagging), policies and procedures, ‘training the trainer’, first aid, fire safety, change management, team-working, and conflict and stress management.
By training some of the workforce in perceiving and assessing risk, organisations will benefit. This in turn will improve the understanding of the importance of safety and the need for additional controls, and thereby change attitudes. This is one way OSH can move from being the HSE team’s responsibility to being a shared one. External supervision may be required, especially for young and vulnerable workers, those undergoing training or those doing jobs that present special risks. Some fully competent individuals will always need to be supervised to ensure that standards are being met consistently. People must be competent and provided with induction training, including on safe systems of work, as well as policy and procedures.
Health, safety and environment teams will often need to negotiate between parties to ensure all are happy
Culture and sustainability
Investing in a positive health and safety culture is aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for its 2030 Agenda, mainly through SDG 3 (ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being), SDG 8 (protecting labour rights and promoting safe and secure working environments) and SDG 16 (developing effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels). The link is clear as OSH is embedded in the economic and social pillars of sustainability. A positive safety culture improves people's quality of life and fosters business profitability alongside economic growth.
The ILO (2022) states that the socioeconomic burden of work-related accidents and ill health has increased to 5.4% of the world's annual GDP. The true figure may be higher, as poor safety cultures mean not all accidents are reported, and because the informal sector remains the major source of employment, especially in Africa.
Also, a wide range of indirect costs arises from accidents and ill health that is not added to the equation or is simply unable to be quantified; every $1 of direct costs incurs $4 in indirect costs (Manuele, 2011). In addition, many countries lack reliable systems for data collection and processing.
The report outlines actions at both workplace and national levels to address this situation and promote a preventive safety and health culture. These include involving all relevant government departments to ensure worker health and safety is considered a national priority; allocating adequate means and resources to increase a general awareness of OSH, a knowledge of hazards and risks, and an understanding of their prevention and control; promoting a social dialogue, for developing and reviewing national OSH policy; and programmes and regulatory frameworks to address persistent and new OSH challenges.
At national level, I would add: clarifying OSH governance and assigning relevant roles, responsibilities and accountabilities; implementing reliable national systems for OSH data collection and processing; and introducing tax exemption/reduction and other reward schemes as incentives for the best-performing organisations.
Employers should consider the following: ensuring compliance with OSH national regulations; implementing OSH management systems alongside culture changes; integrating these systems into a company’s general management structure to help control risks; and meaningfully involving all parties in the ongoing improvement of OSH conditions through consultation, participation and engagement.
The following top tips suggested by IOSH should also be implemented:
- Engage with workers and representatives
- Communicate constructively about risks and OSH policies and procedures
- Listen to worker concerns and provide answers
- Ensure resources are available for managing worker health and wellbeing.
Mohamed-Amine Zahr is group health safety, security and environment manager at the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy (Masen). To read the full references, visit ioshmagazine.com/morocco-pandemic
International Labour Organization. (2022) Enhancing social dialogue towards a culture of safety and health: What have we learned from the COVID-19 crisis?. (accessed 5 September 2022).
Manuele, FA, (2011) Accident Costs: rethinking ratios of indirect to direct costs, Professional. Safety 56 (01): 39–47. (accessed 18 October 2022)