September 12, 2018

How Prepared is your Board to Manage OHS Risks?

Most board members are not sufficiently across the health and safety issues and risks in their business, according to barrister Maria Saraceni.
Board members are generally aware of the concept of safety and the aim of not inuring people at work, and Saraceni said that when people are injured then workers’ compensation insurance cover and medically approved time off work are required.
As such, zero harm is a concept that resonates with such board members, she said.
“Boards which are at this level of organisational maturity will keep abreast of their lost time injury rates. Minutes of board meetings will reflect this,” said Saraceni, who recently spoke at a Safety Institute of Australia and Australian Institute of Company Directors event on safety governance.
“But the fact that occupational health and safety is a far wider concept which rests on the identification and management/control of risks and which penetrates to the core of an organisation’s business evades them.
“Board members of these organisations rest peacefully at night knowing that their employees are safe wearing high visibility clothes and using safety equipment and that their business has insurance cover to protect them.”
But boards and their members which understand both the need for and advantages of proactive management of risks in all aspects of operating their business – as well as their personal and corporate liability for criminal negligence – are higher functioning businesses which are more likely to have better-developed reporting requirements at board level, with heightened consciousness of concepts of zero harm and best practice.
“But do many or any such boards exist? There are few,” said Saraceni, who added that the onus on OHS professionals is ever greater.
“You may recall that in the three-person review which preceded the introduction of the harmonised legislation, one proposal was to make OHS professionals liable for the advice they gave. This did not go through,” she said.
“Ought it have? Should OHS managers be more aligned to risk managers than being concerned with the environment? Whose idea was it to make a health and safety expert an HSE manager? And why? Perhaps we should not go there.
“Are currently qualified OHS practitioners sufficiently skilled to deal with OHS issues not just from an operational level, but also from a management and/or corporate governance level?
“Are the OHS managers’ reporting lines such that they have the ear of the person(s) who make decisions about corporate responsibility and how to deal with OHS risks?
“Do the OHS managers have the financial literacy and understanding to make their case as to why certain OHS issues need to be dealt with in particular ways?
“Are they able to address enterprise risk management issues more broadly and state the case for why OHS risks should be treated like all other commercial risks?
“What is the cost/benefit/value proposition for OHS?
“It is time for OHS practitioners to step up (and be upskilled) to meet the challenges of their profession moving forward,” said Saraceni.
What is the Safety Institute of Australia?
The Safety Institute of Australia is the national association for the health and safety profession. Their vision is for safe and healthy workers in productive workplaces, and pursue this vision by working to build the skills, knowledge and capability of the health and safety profession, and being a voice for that profession.

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