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UpdatesAug 17, 2010

Keeping the board informed about safety

An OHS Board report can be the means of keeping directors in the know about what’s going on in the company on the ground floor.

By Joanna Weekes

Today, Andrew has got a personal story to share that highlights the importance of the members of the Board being active in their understanding and implementation of safety principles in their business.

With the Model Act around the corner, directors will have a positive duty to act with due diligence in administering and monitoring the OHS management system of their business. If they fail in this duty they can find themselves liable to prosecution.

An OHS Board report can be the means of keeping directors in the know about what’s going on in the company on the ground floor. They need to know what’s being done at a practical level to keep their employees safe.

Promoting a safety culture in your workplace

When the people who govern a business are informed about the safety management procedures in place, it can create a positive safety culture that is essential to maintaining morale and productivity.

It is really important that your employees are aware of your safety values and the effort you make in maintaining a safe and healthy workplace for them to work in.


The importance of keeping the Board informed about safety
By Andrew Douglas

Airports are curious places. I remember watching Bill Murray, in the movie “Lost in Translation”. His character was affected by similar emotions to what I feel in airport lounges; estrangement and isolation.

What is curious about airports is that people feel the need to puncture this malaise and find commonality through chatter. It is a particularly Australian phenomena. Last week, whilst I was wrestling with my laptop and had a copy of an Australian Standard, another commuter sitting next to me asked, “You work in safety?”.

He was a director of a middle sized business who had read about the harmonisation of OHS laws and was not sure about his personal risk as a director. He was concerned about how liable he could be because of the lack of OHS Board reporting.

What Board reporting did he receive? He received information about the LTI rate (Lost Time Injury), present premium estimate, the number of injuries and a measure of the seriousness of the injuries. All lag indicators – that is, measures of what has already happened.

When I asked him,

“What is your safety management system?”
“What is your OHS strategic plan?
And, “Where do you need to improve your safety performance?”

He was unable to answer.

In any State, that lack of knowledge is per se a breach of his director’s duties.

What is the purpose of an OHS Board report?

Board reports can help you to:

  1. Identify how the business is performing against its OHS strategic plan and accepted industry standards. Ask questions such as:
    • Is the OHS infrastructure compliant, accessible, inducted and trained in at a reasonable frequency?
    • Has there been external/internal audits, inspection, reviews and process compliance?
    • Is there appropriate, frequent and regular consultation?
      The list goes on. Yet a good OHS Board report can be as simple as extracting the broad elements of the safety management system, comparing those elements to what is actually going on, and rating it.
  1. The Board must have an OHS strategic plan that sets out lag indications (measures of past performance) in a context where they make sense, both historically in the business and against industry standards. The plan must have strategies and targets which reflect, real lag indicator targets. What the Board must know, measured against the plan and industry standards, is:
    • LTI rates;
    • severity rates; and
    • premium rates + predicted rates on current performance.

Remember, improving your lead indicators (measures that look forward not back) by ensuring that the systems, controls and education with the business in relation to OHS and safety are current and relevant, prevents injuries-lag indicators only tell you where you have been. By testing your lag indicators through industry standard comparison data and tracking your progress against your own plan you can drive improvement. As you improve the lead indicators your risks reduce and you have a safer workplace.

Hopefully when I left the director, he felt more informed and better able to ensure his workforce and he were safe. Walking down the corridor to the plane it occurred to me that many directors, when meeting at the Board, feel a sense of estrangement and isolation from safety and risk.

The Board can see many people around them, apparently doing what they have to do, but with no formalised means of connection or understanding of it. It is easier for the directors to disengage and do what they do well; govern operational and sales performance. One conversation can change that. If directors ask the right questions they can drive safety – making it safe for their workforce and for themselves.

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