Health and safety

Corporate governance that influences safety culture

Juliet Kekana 7.jpg

With the growing interest in companies wanting to implement Safety management systems, there’s an upward trend on the influx of Health and Safety professionals into the industry. South Africa has come a long way in implementing Occupational Health and Safety Act in workplaces. The intention is going in the right direction although a lot of work still need to be done in changing attitudes and challenging beliefs systems.

Reflecting on the time I was still in corporate myself as a SHEQ professional, I remember the daunting task of implementing safety systems and the challenges I had to deal with. For most Health and Safety Officers and Managers, just getting the job done is daunting and an uphill battle of trying to get the job done while changing attitudes and corporate culture.  This has led to a very high turnover of professional over the years. Safety Officers start looking for jobs just one month into a role, and it makes one wonder where the problem is.

Corporates are more focused on production targets and see safety compliance as a stumbling block rather than a tool to help them make a success of the business while keeping safety risks as low as possible. Safety professionals see a corporate that is unwilling and unsupportive on OHS compliance issues. This leads to dissatisfaction and poor staff morale. What is the real problem? Why can’t both parties see eye to eye and work in partnership while achieving production objectives and maintaining compliance at the same time? Many line managers will say its mission impossible because their past experiences conditioned them that way.

One of the contributing factors to this dilemma is the fact that Heads of departments work in silos. Safety Manager develops policies and procedures on his own, a Production manager sets production objectives with his team while a Procurement manager compiles supplier requirement without engaging with the Safety Manager. The intentions were good at an individual department level but lack of collaboration between the safety department and others creates this company wide frustration at the execution stage. As the saying goes, “A fish rots from the head”, an exemplary leadership and good governance starts at the top. Companies with a good corporate governance structures have a better chance of making a safety culture work and vice versa.

Section 16 - “(1) Every chief executive officer shall as far as is reasonably practicable, ensure that the duties of his employer as contemplated in this Act, are properly discharged.” This clause of the OHS act, puts accountability on the shoulders of the CEO in ensuring that the act is implemented and complied with.

Introduction of good management systems will assist companies have a well-structured approach to support their safety culture. There is a wide range of frameworks available to assist organisations have a well-structured management system. Depending on the objective or desired outcome, here is one system to adopt. Companies have transitioned from OHSAS 18001 to ISO 45001. This system was developed to improve employee safety, reduce workplace risks and create a safer working environment.

(a)   Plan

OHS compliance audits, Safety policies, Risk assessments take place at this stage.

(b)   Do  

Writing of Safe work procedures, training matrix etc is done at this stage. Management also comes up with management programs to respond to implement control measures to deal with risks identified at the planning stage.

(c)    Check

The organization conducts Inspections and audits to verify compliance and implementation of control measures.

(d)   Act

Management review and Incident management. The effectiveness of the entire system is reviewed.

With the adoption of a management system, it helps define roles and responsibilities as well as encourage accountability.  This will promote a positive safety culture and support governance in the process.  Always remember that collaboration between departments is key to make all this work. Safety Managers shouldn’t view their role as that of policing employees but rather change focus towards supporting structures that are put in place to make compliance work.

For more information on health and safety services, visit our website

Written by Juliet Kekana – Managing Director – De-novo HSE Training and Consulting

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