OHS professionals should draw a line in the sand within their organisations and embark on a long-term safety strategy by engaging leaders and securing their upfront commitment to OHS goals and outcomes, according to Debra Maiden, manager of safety strategy for Victoria Police.
Such a strategy should encompass safety systems, risk management and change management, according to Maiden, who said that leaders should be supported in their commitment to embed the strategy into organisational culture.
Leaders also need to hold all appropriate managers and employees accountable – including safety professionals – on their commitment to the strategy until results are achieved, she said.
“The approach of continuous improvement will not affect cultural change if a strong culture exists in an organisation where injuries are tolerated and accepted,” said Maiden, who talks about building a culture of safety within the current edition of OHS Professional.
“Some call this transformational change, and it takes a good shakeup for this to occur and a strong desire for change on the part of the organisation leaders. The journey will be uncomfortable but rewarding,” said Maiden.
Leaders need to care about their people, and this shows through in the way they operate in dealing with staff, making decisions and integrating safety into the way business is done, she said.
“It doesn’t matter where you a sit in the organisation’s hierarchy; people can tell if the intent to improve safety performance is genuine and comes from respect and concern for employee safety and wellbeing,” said Maiden.
“If employees sense this genuine intent, even when the outcomes are not perfect, they still feel valued and engaged with the organisation.”
In policing, she said this can often be the case, as so many unpredictable variables are at play in the daily work of police when addressing crime and road safety.
The main frustrations that Victoria Police’s leaders have experienced in this are in finding solutions to prevent injuries and return members to operational policing.
Maiden said OHS professionals need to find out what is important to leaders first in planning a strategic approach to safety.
“What are the drivers for change and what will engage this top group of management?”
“No standard approach will fit all organisations [so] provide guidance to leaders as to what their role may be in changing safety culture.”
Within Victoria Police, the safety coaching model has been valuable in this regard, according to Maiden.
“This is not about safety training or legal compliance; it’s about helping existing highly skilled leaders see the opportunity that exists and providing ways to take advantage of them,” she said.
“The provision and interpretation of data to base decisions upon is a key service that OHS professionals can provide.”