How practitioners can be both moral compasses and business enablers

Former editor, IOSH Magazine

When I started writing exclusively on OSH management about 15 years ago there was a movement well under way in larger organisations to go beyond compliance with national regulations.

Instead they were pursuing harm-minimisation policies. As part of that shift, many boosted instruction and training with behaviour-based schemes to encourage their workforces to be more safety conscious and depend less on supervision.

Now, as our interview with Malcolm Staves at L’Oréal illustrates, many of those employers are moving a logical step further and giving the workers exposed to the risk more of a stake in identifying and managing it.

That next step, supercharging hazard-spotting and suggestion schemes and promoting employee input into risk assessments, casts OSH practitioners partly as analysts, helping filter and prioritise the information that flows from the shopfloor, while ensuring there are controls for hazards that would be missed by non-specialists.

Another influence on practitioners in recent years is the pressure for them to look outside their area of expertise and engage more closely with the organisations they work in, understanding business priorities and developing the skills to communicate better with and influence colleagues.

Realigning themselves with these trends may not be painless for many OSH practitioners but the adjustment is worthwhile if it increases their leverage to send more people home unscathed every day. That is what motivates most practitioners I have met and what makes me proud to publish for them.

Their emphasis on worker protection has sometimes set OSH professionals apart from fellow managers who may be distracted by other imperatives. It makes them the moral compass of many organisations in the absence of strong trade unions, and it’s a crucial role.

It may be tricky to marry that responsibility as custodian of the employer’s duty of care when others lose sight of it with the newer one to be business-friendly enablers, but the two functions are not at odds.

Customers and the public are increasingly likely to judge harshly organisations that don’t appear to have a corporate conscience. As we’ve noted before in these pages, if the work of lobbyists such as the IOSH-supported Centre for Safety and Health Sustainability bears fruit, the employee protection metrics of organisations whose shares are traded will be more visible to big investors. Those indicators will join environmental ones as measures of a well-run organisation, focusing executives’ minds.

The combination of more business-oriented OSH practitioners and more OSH-oriented businesses could brighten the profession’s future.

 This is my last comment piece as editor of IOSH Magazine. Thank you to all the members who made me so welcome and taught me so much.


Louis Wustemann is former editor, IOSH Magazine. He was previously editor of Health and Safety at Work magazine and Environment in Business. He has written, edited and consulted on health and safety, environmental and employment matters for more than 25 years.

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