Some things, once said, cannot be unsaid, especially if they are said in writing.
That’s worth remembering if you find yourself in tough negotiations over what you believe are essential funds to maintain safety standards.
Managing and finance directors often find that the variables influencing an organisation’s income stubbornly refuse to conform to their best-laid budgets. The lever left to them to maintain growth rates demanded by investors, or just to balance the books, is in-year budget trimming.
Safety and health spending is almost inevitably included in these cost-cutting discussions. That’s fine when it’s just a question of putting off investment in nice-to-have wellbeing programmes, but not when it comes to safety training or checks on lifting equipment.
In IOSH Magazine's December 2018 leader interview Thames Water’s OSH head Karl Simons explains how he inverted the priority for assurance of the company’s assets, such as pressure vessels and chemical storage tanks, so that the company’s divisional directors’ financial stretch targets did not tempt them to cut safety inspections below planned numbers.
Gathering statements at the start of the year of the number of inspections needed to reassure the organisation of the assets’ integrity, Simons was able to set the number that had to be maintained. As he asks, who would want to be the director that insisted on leaving unchecked a piece of equipment that went on to fail, causing harm or environmental damage?
Your organisation may not have as many potentially hazardous operations, or a product which, as Simons says, poses as much public risk if it is contaminated.
But for those elements you see as vital to safeguarding the organisation and its workers, getting a minimum level acknowledged in writing well before the reforecasts and economy drives start nibbling at the edges, sets a marker that top management will find risky to stray from. Because it might come back to bite them.
If that sounds like strong-arming directors, it is, but only for their own good.
I remember talking to the safety director of a national public services provider who had been struggling to persuade the executive board to keep to its commitment to update its members’ OSH training.
Eventually he told the company secretary that the email trail of cancelled dates risked becoming evidence to the authorities of the corporate approach to safety in a future fatality investigation.
As he pointed out, it wasn’t a threat, just a statement of fact. (One that resulted in an immediate firm date for the board training.)
If you can translate the components of your organisation’s duty of care into explicit commitments that are hard to row back from, that’s good discipline for all concerned.